I’ve always felt sorry for those poor souls tasked with grabbing your attention as you dash along the high street.
Many work as market researchers. Others represent charities and are expected to come back with their bag bursting with completed sign-ups from new donors. The rest are peddling satellite TV or double glazing – and probably fall into the same category as tax inspectors and traffic wardens when it comes to telling others what they do for a living.
Most of the time they’re on a hiding to nothing. It’s a thankless job, and I feel their pain.
When they stop me, my mind is usually on the to-do list I’ve to tackle before my parking ticket runs out. Or I’m on my way to an appointment, or I’m deep in thought, or I just want some headspace to zone out and wander aimlessly. Whatever, the interruption isn’t a particularly welcome addition to my day.
I know I’m not alone.
There's never, ever a good time to stop someone. It never takes “just a minute of your time”. And it often involves feeling pressured to sign up to something on the spot when you’d rather take the time to consider the options from the comfort of your armchair.
Who’d be a wildebeest?
Like big cats, the successes these people enjoy seem to be down to sheer persistence and a knack for pouncing with precision when a passer-by, like a straggling wildebeest, shows a brief moment of weakness - or fails to take effective evasive action (the top three techniques being the “utterly enthralling shop window”, the “rummage in the handbag” and the “crikey, is that my phone ringing”).
When it comes to approaching customers or potential customers for feedback about your business, hopefully none of you try to view them as wildebeest, dragging information from them as they attempt to flee your premises.
A willing participant is much more likely to be on board - particularly when you’ve made sure that the reasons behind your questioning are transparent from the outset. But there’s more to ensuring success than just treading carefully.
There’s another factor, which, as the big cats would tell you themselves, is a critical one when it comes to getting results.
A time for everything...
Think about how you'd approach a boss to broach the subject of a pay rise. It's no different.
But remember, it’s not just about when you ask, or what other priorities they’re juggling at the time, or how much you’re interrupting them. It’s also about the context.
Are you asking customers for their thoughts right after a transaction? Or while they're still weighing up their options? Or months afterwards, when the experience is all but forgotten, and the excitement of the purchase has lost its shine - or looking at the flip side, when they've had a chance to reflect on how well it's served them?
Or are you approaching them cold – potential customers who’ve had no dealings with your business so far?
Actually, any of these can provide you with very valuable insights into how the public sees your business.
Getting hold of that information is a critical first step.
Identifying what needs to change about your visual presence is just the beginning.
And that's when things start to get exciting...