I heard about a very interesting idea tested by the owners of a rest home in Düsseldorf, Germany.  Worried about Alzheimer’s patients who would wander off, and not wanting to make the home feel like a prison, they simply placed a fake bus stop outside.  As they expected, disoriented patients would calmly wait at the bus stop for the never-to-arrive transport, where personnel could find them and bring them back inside in a friendly and inviting way.

Here’s a great summary, and a pointer to the RadioLab podcast where I first heard about this.

What’s interesting to me is that this is working with peoples’ tendencies rather than against them.  Usually we try to keep people from doing what we don’t want them to do, which of course is a losing battle.  People are creative.

Instead, this is a wonderful example of figuring out how to work with what people want to do.  Alzheimer’s patients aren’t so worried about escaping, they’re worried about returning home or returning to familiarity.  This bus stop helps them to find something which is familiar and comforting – a step toward returning home.  So their anxiety dissipates.

Let’s relate this to other businesses.  The idea is that we want to service customers by working with what they naturally want to do rather than against it.

Suppose I own a cell phone shop, struggling to compete against the big names in an industry that’s increasingly become a commodity.  But as a small business owner, I have some freedom to think creatively about how I find customers.

When do people look to enter a new phone contract?

  • When they’re buying their first cell phone (not too many of those anymore!)
  • When their current phone breaks
  • When the battery gives out
  • When they’re buying the kid’s first phone
  • When they’re wondering if they can really replace a computer with a cell phone for everyday use

And the crucial question:  Where do people go when they’re in these situations? I don’t mean just the phone vendors that they might evaluate.  Where do they have discussions?  What other products are they buying at the same time?

What would happen if the kid’s first cell phone was bundled with the school supplies that a parent is likely to buy at around middle school age?  What if links were made from buying a new battery to actually replacing the phone?

Let’s work with our customers, rather than trying to convince them to buy something that they’re not interested in right now.

Carl Dierschow
Small Fish Business Coaching Fort Collins, CO USA