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Article series at The Madison Avenue Journal

Getting to know your customer's passion

What are your customers passionate about? I don't mean what they need or even what they want. I mean the thing that makes them have a spring in their step. The thing that they crave that gets the blood flowing.

It could be jaw dropping design, brilliant transparent technology, or mind-blowing performance. Some companies are better at knowing the answer to this questions than others. Some of those companies that do know the answer still have a hard time delivering on the promise of passion. I ran into a perfect example of this yesterday when I took my car in for service.

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First, let me say that I love to drive. I look forward to every trip to and from work when I get to pilot my car. I watch Formula1, NASCAR and Indy car on TV. I have contemplated buying driving shoes (although I have not yet done so). It makes sense that I bought an Ultimate Driving Machine. The car delivers on its promise. Great speed, fantastic handling and completely reliable. On top of that, the service team at my dealer is top notch. I actually look forward to taking my car in. They've treated me with respect, answered all of my questions and, more than anything, really taken the time to get to know me.

My issue wasn't with the service techs. It was the woman running the loaner car program. I had to have new tires put on and regular maintenance done so they needed the car all day. As a benefit, they provide loaners for people to use so they don't miss work and can get around. This is a great service point for any car dealer. So I get there, pull in to the garage and the guys are fantastic, they have a smile on their faces and remember my name. Par for the course (they have set the bar high).

I look over the paperwork and sign on the line. Then they take me to the front counter and the lady that hands out the loaner cars. This is where the experience that I am used to ends. As I stand there, I hear the guy in front of me asking if he can have a specific model car to check out for his wife. I know they have it available for loan because they're all stacked up out front. What does she say? "They're all the same sir. Each one is a great car." Wha? Did She...? This is where my passion radar picked up. Those cars most certainly are all great. That's not he point. A loaned car is like an extended test drive priming users for the newest model and engine class. A fantastic, underused sales tool. On top of that, cars are extremely personal and you, hopefully, connect with one even for a day. The guy just hung his head and was escorted to his car.

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So I step up to the counter. I chat with her for a minute about the weather and then I ask "Do you have the 335 (the model) in black?" (I know they have two of them in my view and I love black cars). I can picture myself riding in it and having that influence me to trade up when it comes time to turn mine in.

Guess how she responds? "They're all the same sir." Hell no they're not the same lady! I tried to reason with her, "Well, my lease is coming due and I'd really like to drive the car I am looking at" (never-mind that it's a larger financial commitment). She says, "Sorry, they're all the same, here is yours now." So I turn and look. What do I see? I see, not only the lower powered engine (which I already have), but it's the UGLIEST car color I have EVER seen. They call it "barrique red" and it's the most horrid, grandma-esque color I've come across (no offense if you have this color, like I said cars are very personal). My blood is boiling now. My passion is working in reverse. Not only am I angry, but I don't even want to drive it. I want to get to my meeting, get home and get my car back ASAP. And that's what I did.

It seems that locating the passion of their customer would be easy and they could easily exceed people's expectations. You have a bank of cars to loan. Get people's buy-in. Let people pick, let them connect with the car, up-sell them to the newer, more powerful model while providing great service. Turn this into a sales experience and not just a loaner.

How does this manifest itself in your business? Don't think you have to be a performance car to connect your customer's passion. Do you offer world-class design? I've had similar passionate feelings when I see a fantastic photograph or a perfectly on-target web site design. Do you offer remarkable customer service? Do you anticipate your customer's needs? Do you go above and beyond?

Ideally you can connect your passion as a company/blogger/artist with your customer's passion. That's where the magic happens.

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People are passionate about wildly diverse elements of life. You'll find as many lava lamp aficionados as you will Lamborghini purists. What examples do you have of someone connecting with your passion? How about someone who didn't recognize your passion?

Lewis Green has a nice post on his blog today about his upcoming book. His post focuses on customer service and how customer service and the sales team is the front line to your customer's brand experience. Head over there and expand the conversation.


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