Do You Have a Steel Cage Around Your Customers?

– By Ruth King

Put a steel cage around your customers and take great care of them so they are not tempted to escape.

What do I mean – what is a steel cage around your customers?


My definition of a steel cage:

• When a customer sees a competitor’s truck in a neighbor’s driveway she doesn’t ask her neighbor how the service was

• When a customer doesn’t pay attention to the lettering on the side of an HVAC truck she sees while she is driving. The company name doesn’t even register with her because she has no need

• When a customer sees a postcard or a letter from a competitor’s business, she immediately throws it in the trash…and doesn’t spend a nano-second to open it or read it.

• When a customer sees an ad about another heating and air company on TV, she walks into the next room to get a drink…thinking she will return to watch her show after the “stupid commercials” are done.

• When a customer needs your telephone number and can’t find it, she types your company’s name in the search box rather than “air conditioning repair and the name of your town”.


Your “caged customers”:

• Are so loyal to you they don’t even think about trying another company the next time they need service.

• Know, like, and trust you to take care of all their home/business comfort needs.

• Usually own a maintenance plan (although some caged customers don’t have one – probably because they weren’t asked and shown the benefits of owning one in terms they understand).

• Know exactly who to call and has your number in their cell phones. If they don’t, they go to the magnet on the refrigerator, the chip clip, or other sticker you’ve placed in the home/office to get your phone number.

• Read your emails, postcards, and letters.

• Give you phenomenal testimonials and refer.

Your caged customers write your paychecks year after year. Your goal is to get as many caged customers as you can and never lose one. So, what are some simple ideas to help you put a steel cage around your customers?

First, there is a difference between customer service and customer experience. Everyone expects great customer service. And, people are sorely disappointed when they don’t receive it…from their perspective.

You need to turn customer service into customer experience…from your customers’ perspectives. No one can read the minds of your customers. You need to ask your customer questions. Remember to ask your employees the same questions.

Rick Housek, who writes a great inspirational column once a week (, put it this way for one of his clients, a country club:

“You’re all customers too. When you’re a patron of a hospitality establishment — a restaurant, a hotel, a night club — what little things annoy, irritate, and drive YOU the most crazy?”

Putting it in first person changes their perspective and makes problems easier to identify.

When Rick asked this question to country club employees they quickly and effortlessly generated a long list of anger points they called ‘Micro Insults’…like no separate checks… no menu substitutions… crumbs left on table… water glasses low and not refilled… not lighting table candles… wait staff not smiling upon initial greeting… up-charges for extra items on a hamburger… table linens with holes… and a host of others.

Unfortunately, the country club did some of these things – easy to fix at little cost. Then, a better customer experience.

So, change the question for our industry:

“You’re all customers too.” When you’re a patron of a car repair establishment, a carpet cleaning company or some other service company – what little things annoy, irritate, and drive YOU most crazy?

I’ll bet you’re doing some of the things on the list your employees and your customers come up with – fix them and the customer will have a better customer experience…and you’re building that steel cage around your customers.

The list you create are YOUR Micro-Insults. Get rid of them!

That’s the first step in putting a steel cage around your customers so they don’t think of trying a competitor when they see an ad or are directly solicited through direct mail, email, or a phone call.

The second step in putting a cage around your customers is consistency:

• The phone is answered the same way, every time, no matter who is picking up the phone when it rings.

• Technicians do exactly the same thing when they greet/leave a customer at her home or office.

• Maintenance is performed exactly the same way…taking about the same time.

• Follow up is exactly the same way all the time.

• Thank you’s are sent to the customer after service calls, installations, and referrals. They don’t have to be monetary thank you’s. The fact that you said thank you sets you apart and shows you appreciate them!

• You contact your customers giving them something useful when you don’t want something (i.e. maintenance) or they don’t need your services.

Does this take time and work to make sure everyone is doing your procedures the same way all the time?

Absolutely, yes.

It takes training, role plays, and constant vigilance. The minute you stop paying attention to a process is when your employees are tempted to stop doing them.

However, compare the time it takes and the small cost for doing this to the cost of acquiring a new customer. Most customer acquisition costs are $300 to $500 or more; and it takes a lot of time and many, many contacts before a potential customer calls your company. Then, you have to be consistent so that you lock them in your steel cage.

Put a steel cage around your customers and take great care of them so they are not tempted to escape…whether the customer has been your customer for years or is a new customer.

Ruth King is the author of The Courage to be Profitable. For more information, visit, or email

Ruth King

Ruth King is a management consultant and trainer to the plumbing and HVAC industry. To purchase Ruth’s new book, The Courage to be Profitable, visit