To have a shot at keeping your customers for life, you’ve got to understand where each customer is on the consumption cycle, as I described in the last column. Are they newly-satisfied with their choice to do business with you, or are they itching for a change?

Then you need to do more. You’ve got to determine what type of attachment the customer has with your business, and the extent of that attachment. Then you need to know what the customer’s alternatives are, and how competitive those offerings may be.

The type and strength of each customer’s attachment to your business should determine how you approach and treat that customer. You’ll need to use different data, incentives and offers for different folks if you want to hold on to the vast majority of your customer base. One size never fits all.

Figuring out the type of connection is not as simple as you might think, but your industry and product have a big role to play. Start by thinking in terms of these three groups of customers.

The “Heart” Group

Soft drink and beer companies have it pretty easy. So do soaps, detergents, and deodorants.  In fact, the most likely cause of a change in a beer drinker’s preference is divorce. Go figure that out.

In these industries you’re looking at customers with a clear emotional connection to the product and a reluctance to change or even try something new. They think they made a smart and conscious choice; they’re sticking with it; and they’re pretty good spenders. They’re not going anywhere, and you shouldn’t allocate your scarce resources against them. Far better to focus on the behavior of the “at-risk” customers.

The “Butt” Group

At the other end of the fun scale, we’ve got industries like life insurance. This is another group that’s going nowhere fast -- maybe not until they die. These people don’t even think about the product more than once a year; don’t think there’s any reason to change; and aren’t really even price-sensitive.

If the drinkers are emotional, these guys fall into the “just sit there” category. As long as you don’t disturb them (and no one else does, either) they’re there for the duration. Internet providers and credit card companies are in the same category. It’s just too much effort to make a change that isn’t precipitated by something.

The “Brain” Group

This is the largest category, and the one you need to engage. These customers typically range across a lot of necessity-driven products and services that we use almost every day. Think grocery shopping, clothing for the kids, gas and maintenance for the car, etc.

Here customers are pretty engaged and very sensitive to and receptive to various offers. These are the folks who think a lot about their purchases, especially in tough times. They are regularly trying to find the best deals. They are price/value/performance shoppers and they require a great deal of care and handling. They need to be with continuing demonstrations that their choices and selections are the right ones.

Take some time to figure out where you sit in this analysis. In the next column, we’ll talk about how to keep almost all of your customers on board for life.