Vice President, Marketing and Communications
Quick quiz: What’s the most effective way to get new customers?
- Social media
- Public relations
Actually, it’s a trick question. The best way to bring in new customers is to create an army of current customers who will advocate for your brand. Most of us know that people trust their friends and colleagues far more than they trust advertising, but many of us don’t know how to get those referrals. A new book by Peter Shankman, out at the end of this month, shows you how. While many of the tips in Zombie Loyalists: Using Great Service to Create Rabid Fans (PALGRAVE MACMILLAN TRADE, 2015) seem obvious—hire nice people, for one—it’s surprisingly rare how few companies manage to do it.
The book offers a good reminder of everything you know you should be doing, but that you might be overlooking. Because hiring jerks—and committing other deadly customer service sins—could cost you business.
A Real-Life Scenario
A couple of months ago, I went to a bakery where I’m a frequent customer to pick up a cake. When I walked inside, an employee was shooing another potential customer—and now me—out the door, saying the shop was closed but that he had forgotten to lock up. And he was really rude about it. The other customer explained that he just wanted to buy a loaf of bread that was sitting right there on the shelf. He didn’t even need change. The employee said no. Not ‘sorry,’ not ‘I wish I could,’ just no, and then he closed and locked the door in our faces. We were so taken aback that we talked about it in the parking lot for several minutes. Have I returned to the bakery? No. Neither has the other guy, who had been a loyal customer for 13 years but told me he would never set foot inside the shop again. And you can bet we both told others about our experience.
On the flip side, excellent customer service can put money in your pocket. According to a 2012 Acenture study cited in Zombie Loyalists, 66 percent of customers are willing to spend more money with a company that provides excellent customer service, while 85 percent of people who have stopped buying from that company said they would have stayed if only the company had acted differently toward them when they had a problem. Boden USA, Everlane and Zappos come to mind as companies that have provided great service both in everyday transactions and when I’ve had a problem. All three have taken returns without a receipt, without tags—even stuff that had been worn but didn’t really work! Zappos even replaced shoes that were a year old but were too big. (Color me flabbergasted, but happy!) Not only have I spent thousands of dollars with them each year, but I’ve also recommended them to my friends and family and posted about their products on social media. I think I have something like a thousand followers on my personal networks and ten times that on my professional ones. Not huge, but not bad either. That’s not counting the multiplier effect, when my friends’ friends see my posts on their feeds. Those recommendations can really add up!
You’re probably no Zappos, but you can learn to delight (Shankman calls it “infect”) customers and turn them into brand ambassadors (“zombies”) who will advocate for your company. While I’ll boil down the book’s pertinent advice below, to get the full experience, pick up a copy. It’s a quick read, and because it’s chock full of stories that really bring the steps you should take to life (weird analogy for a book about the undead, I know), you’ll be that much more apt to heed it and to start enjoying the increased revenues that come from focusing on your customers even if it costs you money to do so.
Sage advice from the book
Identify barriers to loyalty.
Does your company shackle its employees with rigid rules? If so, you’d better take another look at your playbook. Chances are, while you’re enforcing rules, your customers are checking out your competitors—and your competitors are gobbling them up. Why not empower your employees to help your customers? You’ve hired smart, nice people, right? Let them loose (within reason, of course). You’ll find they like their jobs better because they have autonomy, and your customers like your company better because your employees are empowered to help them.
Don’t look at customer service as a project.
It’s long-term, baby. Bake it into your company’s culture. “You can’t half-ass this. You can’t delegate a team to this for a specified time, nor can you put a few people on the project,” says Shankman. Rather, if you want to create a breeding ground for ‘Zombie loyalists,’ you must get the entire company on board. “Every employee, from the front-desk receptionist to the head of marketing, from the vice president of engineering to the chief executive, needs to understand that they’re going to be living in a culture of the customer and that without everyone on board, the breeding ground [for zombies] is going to fail,” says Shankman. Did you know that Zappos offers new hires $2,000, no strings attached, to quit within the first 90 days if they don’t believe they fit into the company culture? Now that says something about how serious Zappos is about its customer-centric mindset!
Value your employees.
Seems obvious, right? Value your employees, because only when your employees feel valued will customers have a chance of feeling valued as well. But do you really value them? Think about it. If the answer is no, or even maybe, turn it around. Citing a study by a consultancy called The Geek Factory, Inc., Shankman writes, “Almost 60 percent of employees said they would be more inclined to work harder, take better care of their customers, and be more ‘present’ in the workplace if they simply felt like their employer cared about them.” More than half your employees would work harder if they knew you cared!? Powerful stuff! Treat employees well and they’ll talk up your company to customers, potential customers, and Uncle Bob at the Fourth of July picnic (Uncle Bob loves to shop!). An effective way to do this, according to Shankman, is to show your employees the end result of their work. Did an employee go above and beyond for a customer, and was that customer delighted, or was she able to do something great as a result? Circle back to your employee and tell him or her about it. “Employees are investments,” says Shankman. “Treat them with the respect they deserve.”
Turn people into zombie loyalists by defying their expectations.
“The general expectation of any given customer in any given service situation is that they’ll be treated like crap and will leave neutral at best, unhappy at worst,” says Shankman. His advice—and he’s hardly the first to say it—is to under-promise and over-deliver. “If you do nothing else, that takes your customer service from ‘crap’ to ‘wow,’” he says, adding that companies should focus on “nonintrusive, beneficial-to-the-customer follow up that makes them feel helped, not sold to.” He adds, “As you see problems with which you can help, step up. In some cases it’s as simple as a ‘hey, let’s make your day better.’ If you can do a little something to cheer your customers up or make their day brighter, not only does it reaffirm in their mind the choice they made to patronize your business, but it also creates Zombie Loyalists. The majority of customer service interactions in the world fall into the category of ‘eh.’ It wasn’t great, it didn’t suck, I got my product, whatever.”
That leaves a ton of room to wow.
What do you think? What are your strategies for turning your customers into “zombie loyalists?”