In life, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. In business, getting a referral or testimonial, is the highest form of flattery, and is the currency on which you build your reputation. The better your reputation, the easier it is for your front-line staff to do their jobs and add to your growth.
Testimonials come in all shapes and sizes, now more than ever. In the past, a letter typed on letterhead would be the norm, but today the highwater mark is a shout out on social media, perhaps a photo with a selfie or meme with your product, or a video about your product. Either way, these digital productions are creative and honest (sometimes too honest), but what makes them great is their authenticity and that they come from real, ordinary customers… loyal customers.
So How Do You Create Loyal Customers?
There are varying arguments of what makes customers loyal, but we have narrowed it down to these four elements:
- Constant Innovation– Companies like Amazon, Apple and Google are constantly updating their products to draw customers further into their eco system, making it easier and easier to make a purchase. They do such a great job, that their customers are happy to fork over their money. When your customers are thrilled to be part of your brand, you know you’re attaining your goals. But not all innovations come from technology companies. Brands like Starbucks and Dominos have also created successful apps which reduce the customer effort to purchase. Innovation shouldn’t stop there though. It must continue, just as Starbucks rewards cards have evolved from a loyalty system to placing orders for pickup.
- Excellent Customer Service – If I asked you to list companies known for customer service, many of you would rattle off a list of the same brands; Nordstrom’s, Disney, Zappos, Trader Joes, etc. These brands have made Customer Service a part of their brand. Great customer service requires an investment in high quality training, internal process reviews to improve systems, and high-quality customer touches with VOC (voice of the customer) feedback.
- Branding Your Loyalist – Everyone likes being part of a special group or VIP. Airlines and hospitality have been doing it for years, but musicians have taken it to another level. I’m not just talking old school Grateful Dead “Dead Heads” or Jimmy Buffet “Parrot Heads”. I’m talking about the Taylor “Swifties”, Justin “Beliebers”, “Selenators” and “KatyCats”, even sports teams like The Boston Red Sox with their “Red Sox Nation”. Devoted fans want to be part of the team. This type of branding has trickled down into consumer brands as well, as with TJ Maxx’s “Maxxinista” and Fiskars “Fiskateers”.
- Culture – A positive thriving culture is practically contagious. Every time I go into Trader Joes, I can’t wait to check out to see how the cashier will engage me. The best part is the authenticity. Happy employees make for happy customers. Zappos has built their business model around their culture. From day one, they decided their culture would drive how they hired, trained, and promoted staff. If you’re culture is broken, start at the top and lead by example. Reward the right behaviors and reinforce the new culture.
Each element above focuses on specific ways to please and wow your customers, but all are ways to engage the customer. By bringing them closer to your brand and opening communication, you can tap into their thoughts and ideas, helping you to create raving fans.
Raving Fan’s Testimonial – Behind the scenes (Full disclosure, I’m one of the raving fans.)
Buying into the culture
This case study is not about a product or brand, but about a non-profit organization called SOCAP. What’s SOCAP you ask? It’s the Society of Consumer Affairs Professionals. Still confused? So was I when I was first introduced to the organization over 14 years ago. After a successful breakout session in New York city in the fall of 2004, our company committed to exhibit at both conferences the following year. I was enlisted to make sure this was a worthwhile investment of time and money. I knew very little about the group (and the name didn’t help) and I had no real reason to be there. In marketing parlance, I was a stranger who was about to become a visitor.
I heard Wade Hauser before I saw him. He was my booth neighbor in Orlando at the conference and he seemed to know everyone. That’s because he did. His energy and enthusiasm for the organization was contagious. I asked him when he got involved.
“Well Andy” he said as he slapped me on the back. “I became a SOCAP member in 2001. I was a new at Prosodie Interactive - We were one of the first hosted in the cloud call center solution companies in the business. And one day while I was calling through the 1999 SOCAP Directory I called a guy named Brian Giannini. Brian said "Wade, we have a conference coming up and I think you should attend." So, I attended my first SOCAP Conference at the Marriott in Palm Springs/Desert."
What have I done? He was like a machine that I couldn’t turn off. He was spitting out people’s names and dates, where they grew up and their kid’s names. As I stood in awe and amazement at what was happening, he continued.
“When I arrived back in Atlanta I joined the local chapter with Tom Rocca and Peter Phillips. Tom had just moved to Atlanta from Denver. After attending several local meetings and events I became the Georgia SOCAP Newsletter & Publication VP.”
He stopped. Look at me staring back and him and said, “You alright?” And then he laughed out loud a crazy laugh and put his arm around me and said “Let’s walk brother! You need to meet everyone.”
Meet everyone? It sounded like he was going to introduce me to his family. Thinking back on it, that’s exactly what it was like, a big family reunion. There was lots of hugging and people screaming how happy they were to see each other. By the end of that first conference I had a stack of business cards and memories and I was looking forward to seeing everyone in the Fall.
The fall conference was in San Francisco and to this day is still my favorite conference. It’s probably because I was engaged and enjoying all the people and the things I was learning. I met Dana Allender who was with Infocision at the time. He put his arm around me and said “You’ve gotta come out with us tonight. That’s when the real networking happens.” That night he took the stage and sang Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” to a crowed bar filled with SOCAPers. I will never forget it. That night I met Shelley Elkins who was working with Nestle Waters at the time. Five minutes of hearing her quick wit and sarcasm and I knew we would become fast friends. It would be a few years later at a breakout session when I would realize exactly how smart she is.
Shelley had attended her first SOCAP conference in 1999, and she was as hooked as the rest of us. She met a lot of people in her first meetings and so many of those would form a tight group in the coming years. "I met these guys the same way I usually meet men -- on the dancefloor." Shelley quipped as she reminisced her about how she has moved around the country and worked for several companies -- all roles brought to her by friends from SOCAP.
From Fan to Advocate
My dad always said, “Stay curious” and “Surround yourself with smart people.” That’s exactly what I had at SOCAP. The “Work hard”, “Play hard” culture got me hooked. And so it went, every six months another conference. And as the relationships and education deepened, so did my engagement and my commitment with the organization. I couldn’t get enough. From committees to breakout sessions to being on the national board. I was a raving fan. I had become a true SOCAPer.
After the Orlando Conference in October 2016. I reached out to Wade to let him know the spring conference was going to be in Chicago again. Ten years prior Wade had an idea. “Well everyone, or almost everyone thinks of the Blues Brothers along with baseball, football and pizza when you think of Chicago. So, I thought how fun it would be if Andy and I would rewrite the famous song ‘Soul Man’ to ‘SOCAP Man’.”
Roughly 10 days before the conference in Chicago, I emailed Wade a link to the original Saturday Night Live video and said, "Start practicing, Marjorie said it’s a go!" Like 9-year-old boys on Christmas, we were excited. We divvied up the parts, Wade would be Elwood, Dan Akroyd’s part and I would be Belushi’s Jake. Now we just needed a script.
It was less than a week to the conference, we needed a ringer to rewrite the lyrics with a SOCAP theme. Enter Shelley Elkins. When I reached out to her about our plan for "SOCAP Man," she was cooling her heels in Cincinnati, took a quick look and flipped a rework of the song's lyrics back to me the same day. Wade and I loved her lyrics, we polished it up and within a day our Stars were Born! The collaboration was fast, fun and absolutely seamless. This is what happens when people who met as colleagues, become friends and then get to work together.
With Wade in Georgia, Shelley in Ohio and me in New Jersey, there was no rehearsing together. Like everyone who must perform in front of a live audience, we wanted to do a good job and do it right. I would call Wade and tell him I was exhausted trying to practice. And he would say “I'm not 24 years old, I’m 52 and I can’t move at the speed of Akroyd and those dance moves.” We laughed, but it was real. One night while rehearsing, my son laughing at me asks, “why are you doing this? Who’s making you do this?” As I was catching my breath, I chuckled and said, “No one is making us do this, we want to do it. It will be fun and everyone will enjoy it.”
Sunday afternoon, Fairmont Hotel, Chicago, Illinois, with only hours until the live performance and we have not yet rehearsed together. Marjorie was able to get us 30 minutes to rehearse before the Sunday night networking event. All I can say is, I was impressed. The sound crew made sure their timing and sound levels were in check. Marjorie made sure the entrance and the stage would be adequate, as well as supporting us with her positive feedback. We rehearsed just 2 times and it was then that we realized this was really going to happen.
Monday morning, we met behind the stage with butterflies in our bellies and the attitude to win. We put on our costumes and Shelley came backstage and took a picture of us both. Everything went as smoothly as possible. Nobody fell off the stage. Nobody knocked anything over or broke any bones. And because Shelley and Marjorie had the entire audience standing and clapping before we came out on stage, it was an awesome feeling of energy and adrenaline.
Now this video hasn’t gone viral (yet) and gotten us on the Ellen show, but every SOCAPer who was in attendance that day got an unforgettable testimonial from 3 long time members. Our Blues Brothers experience at the SOCAP Symposium in Chicago was more than just a thrilling performance. The support, energy and overall camaraderie we experienced is what SOCAP is all about. The relationships are authentic and the professional learning is rich. Through SOCAP, we’ve built an amazing professional network and made lifelong friends.