It’s Tuesday night. I’m writing this (well, the first draft anyway) from high in the right field stands of Wrigley Field, surrounded by more than 39,000 cheering Chicago Cubs’ fans. The Cubs currently sit atop their division in the National League, five games in front.
In case you’re not a baseball fan, the Cubs are perennially also-rans. In fact, the last time they won the World Series was 100 years ago in 1908. But still, over 39,000 people are here screaming their lungs out. The Chicago Cubs have some of the most vocal and loyal (hard for a New Yorker to admit) fans in baseball. Even when, year after year, they don’t win the World Series, the fans come back next spring, with hope in their hearts.
Every team needs fans. And every business needs them as well. Several years ago, Ken Blanchard of “One Minute Manager” fame wrote a book called Raving Fans, essentially a parable about how businesses can turn customers into fanatic fans through exemplary customer service. In short, customers become so happy with a business that they spread the word to friends and colleagues.
Of course, the fans of a business are not likely to be as blindly loyal as Cubs fans are. You have to earn that loyalty, and once you do earn it, you have to work hard to keep it.
So how do you create fans? While I agree with Blanchard that excellent customer service will convert customers into fans, it’s only part of the equation. You can’t be passive and expect your happy customers to do all the work. Viral marketing strategies work best when entrepreneurs make it easy for their customers to tell other people about their experiences. That means including a “tell-a-friend” or “share this” link in all your e-mail messages to customers.
But even that’s not enough. The one mantra running through the minds of most of your customers is, “What have you done for me lately?” So if you want to make your customers fanatic about your business, you need to incentivize them to do so. Give clients discounts on future transactions or free products; it really pays for you to reward your existing customers for bringing new clients to your door. Here you can take a clue from the multibillion dollar credit card business. Today, the credit card companies compete for our business by offering rewards and incentives for use.
Blanchard also touts “consistency” as a way to turn your customers into big fans. But I think consistency can be a danger zone for entrepreneurs. Of course you want to offer a consistent customer experience. But consistency can also mean “dull and serviceable.” It can paint you as an out-of-touch business. The importance of this will vary by your industry, but if you’re a retailer or restaurant owner, many of your customers expect you to meld a consistency of service with the element of surprise.
Surprise is an underrated business tactic. Used correctly, it can keep your customers coming back because they’re not met by the same old, same old every time. In business, there’s generally a time for both surprise and consistency. Americans flock to McDonald’s and other franchises because we know what we’re going to get when we go there. But when we want great food, we often head to a local burger joint or independent restaurant, where the standards are joined by an ever-changing array of daily specials. Many of us have come to expect the unexpected, so make sure you and your business don’t get stuck in a rut.
Appealing to customers can be tricky for many entrepreneurs. Baseball teams win when they have a good mix of proven veteran players and young, eager, and hungry rookies. Entrepreneurs have to do the same. The key is to find the winning balance.