Are You Treating Your Customers Like Fish in a Barrel?

cat fish tank

Last year a friend of mine, a hair stylist living in another city, told me about her latest promotion. Her current customers would get 10% off of her services with every new referral they brought in. Then this new customer would get a Groupon-esque 50% of her first appointment.

“I’m glad you’re not my stylist!” my id blurted as my iPhone disconnected.[1] I took a moment to retrieve my rational self and then parsed my reaction to my friend’s well-intentioned offer.

It boiled down to the “fish in a barrel” principle. My in-laws, who hail from Mississippi and interestingly, are related to William Faulkner,[2] introduced me to this concept:

They’re only fixing to get the new fish. They ain’t worried about the fish in the barrel none.

Normally anything that relates to hunting and fishing is pretty foreign to me, but this concept made sense. At the summer camp I attended before third grade, I “fished” using a clothesline tied to a stick. The counselors gave us soggy egg noodles to bait the fishhooks. I tossed my hook into a galvanized tub filled with catfish and hoped for a bite. These fish were so sluggish[3] you’d think I would have caught fish after fish, but I didn’t catch a single one.

Now imagine those fish are your customers. People like my friend view their current customers as if they were those catfish. They assume those customers aren’t going anywhere and so leave them in that barrel or galvanized bathtub.

Washtub, Humble, Texas 0423091854

They fail to grasp how slippery customers can be. Granted, if these customers are anything like me, they’re probably like those sluggish, trapped catfish. For my part, I’m unlikely to look for a new stylist[4] or other type of service provider if I’m reasonably happy because doing so takes effort.

But if my service provider thinks he or she can toss me the occasional noodle, while bestowing potential customers (ones I refer!) with hot dogs and liver,[5] you bet I’m going to leap out of that barrel and flop my way to the river.

And that next provider probably won’t hook me with some one-time crazy discount. More likely, she’ll do so through great word-of-mouth (be it a friend’s referral or through something like Yelp) – and then she’ll keep me by offering the best service for my needs.

Catfish Photo Credit: inajeep via Flickr

Galvanized Tub Photo Credit: Patrick Feller via Flickr


  1. Hey, AT&T, you’re not all bad!  ↩

  2. I’ll save their origin story for a future post…  ↩

  3. Well, imagine being one of 20 foot-long fish crowded in a bathtub-sized area…  ↩

  4. Actually, if you live in the Los Angeles area, I highly recommend Joan Ingram. She has cut my hair for over 15 years, and she is a master at her craft – and one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.  ↩

  5. Apparently catfish like liver and hot dogs. Your preferences probably differ.  ↩

Speak Your Mind

*