Monday Mornings with Madison

Turning Customers into Fans

Word Count:  1,617

Estimated Read Time: 6 1/2  min.

Every company claims to offer superior customer service, or some such assertion.  Excellent service is touted so often as a distinguishing feature in marketing and promotional materials that it really has little meaning.  When companies with the worst record for service talk about their ‘commitment to service’, that’s when it’s sadly obvious that the term ‘great service’ has lost all meaning.   Think Comcast Cable, a company that consistently tops the list of worst service providers year after year and did so again in 2017[1] Think Wells Fargo, also on the worst service list, who was caught creating millions of fake customer accounts last year.  Actual great service – service that goes above and beyond and consistently makes customers happy – is rare and can, therefore, really be the ultimate differentiator in business.   That kind of service is about going beyond the basics.  It is about helping customers to not just connect with a company, but actually invest themselves in the brand.

According to Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles in their book Raving Fans, “Your customers are only satisfied because their expectations are so low and because no one else is doing better. Just having satisfied customers isn’t good enough anymore. If you really want a booming business, you have to create Raving Fans.”[2] They wrote that over 20 years ago.  Having sold over 12 million copies, their book aimed to help business owners learn how to define a service vision, identify what a customer really wants, institute effective systems, and make stunning customer service a competitive advantage—not just a “flavor of the month” program.   Of course, technology and robotics is changing how we interact with customers in a multitude of ways, raising the bar ever higher on the level of service customers expect today.  So what does it take for a company today to deliver a level of service so profound that it turns customers into fans?  How can a company or organization lead customers to become so emotionally invested in the brand that they become raving fans?  Die-hard fans?

What is a Die-Hard Fan?

In discussing what turns customers into die-hard fans of a sports team such as the Chicago Cubs or Boston Red Sox, LinkedIn Contributor Isaac Mostovicz explained that “A die-hard fan is loyal, ready to pay top price and makes the competition irrelevant. Die-hard fans are a core asset to a brand.  Trying to outsmart competitors does not turn customers into die-hard fans! Neither does a superior product nor exceptional customer service.”

Mostovicz added that “Die-hard fans invest themselves in their ‘fandom’ believing they play a fundamental role in their team’s life. These fans identify with their team and are personally invested in the benefit they give and receive in being part of the team. They focus on what they can contribute to the brand instead of what they receive. They feel they have a stake in the success of the product or service!”[3]

When a customer experiences a profound level of connection with a brand…. that they see it as an extension of themselves.  It is a level of brand engagement that says “you aren’t just a customer; you are one of us.”  This is a more profound level of customer service that says “you are part of the team.”  Being part of the team or brand enhances the die-hard fan’s self-esteem. It really doesn’t matter whether the brand is successful or not, as long as the die-hard fan feels the adrenaline and dopamine rushing through his/her veins as a result of being involved with the brand.

Indeed, the Chicago Cubs treat their customers as beloved fans.  Katarina Garcia, a Chicago Cubs fan said, “Having lived in Wrigleyville, we were given a special day to go on the grounds, tour the locker rooms, and had complimentary lunch. My daughters went to the nearby school & they provided free tickets for the students. Of course, you don’t have to live in the neighborhood to feel appreciated. The Cubs treat everyone of their fans like family.”[4]

This is not exclusive, however, just to sports brands.  This level of customer-brand connection –- when customers are transformed into fans – is customer service on steroids and can be found in top brands.  Disney.  Starbucks.  Amazon.  Harley Davidson.  These are brands to which people connect in a deeper, more personal way.  Harley riders don’t buy motorcycles… they buy Harleys.  Disney fans buy annual passes so they can visit the parks over and over again, year after year.  This level of service invites customers to “be the brand”, not just “buy the brand.”  True die-hard fans even go so far as to own the company’s stock.  It is common for Apple fans own Apple stock… they literally became “part owners” in the company. That is when ‘invested in’ goes from being figurative to being literal.

How to Create Raving Fans

Human beings have a profound need for connection.  Scientists say that we are hard-wired that way.  Physiologically and neurologically, humans have big brains.  The bigger the brain, the greater the need to socialize.  So in building a community around a brand, a company can appeal to this human need to connect.  When that connection results in pleasure and excitement, the brain releases chemicals which in turn reinforces that loyalty.  Thus, customer service revolves around not just delivering a product or service, but in connecting customers to the company.  There are lots of activities that companies can do to deliver customer service in a way that engages and connects people to the brand and each other.

Host events – Enable customers to meet and socialize with one another face-to-face.  LinkedIn is creating die-hard fans with their organic LinkedIn Local groups that are springing up around the world.  These groups are organized by local to meet other LI contacts in their area.  The events are varying from small meetups of 6 people, to cocktail parties of two dozen, to networking seminars with 50 in attendance.  Through these groups, people are connecting to one another through the LinkedIn brand, increasing each person’s loyalty and love of the site. Other companies can do the same thing.  For example, company can host a quarterly tee-off event for their avid golfing customers.

Give the product or fans a title or name – Creating a nickname like “tech nerds” for Apple customers or calling a motorcycle a “hog” for Harley Davidson bike subtly reinforces the brand’s community.  Additionally, it reinforces that customers aren’t just buying a product or service, but rather they’re becoming an integral part of a community with a larger identity and purpose. 

Gamify the customer experience – Gamification is the application of typical elements of game playing (e.g., point scoring, competition with others, rules of play) to other areas of activity.  Examples of gamification are loyalty programs that allow customers to earn points for rewards.   Starbuck’s loyalty program is a good example of this, with tens of millions of active users in the United States alone.  Their loyalty program keeps customers engaged and coming back for their coffee fix.  By creating a game playing experience related to a company’s brand, users feel greater loyalty and connection to the brand.

Deliver stellar service – One of the six principles of persuasion is the principle of reciprocity.  It says that people are more likely to do a favor in return when a favor is done for them first.  Going above and beyond for customers increases the chances they’ll be back in the future to do more business.  What does that kind of service look like?  Well, it’s not about just doing the job on time with a smile.  That’s a given.  It is doing what others won’t even think to do.

Case in point.  Shawn Fulker, a soldier serving in Afghanistan, want to send his wife, Josephine, a pizza for her birthday from her favorite pizza shop, Mellow Mushroom.  Fulker emailed the pizza chain to ask if they’d accommodate a special delivery to Jacksonville, FL on his behalf even though he was pretty far away.  Not only did the pizza parlor honor the customer’s request, they made a heart-shaped pizza for his wife and brought balloons for her too.  Fulker didn’t ask for the pizza to be heart-shaped and he didn’t ask for the balloons (nor was he charged for them either).  The staff at Mellow Mushroom just decided to go above and beyond.[5]

Let customers share too – Customers trust other customers more than the company to tell the truth about the brand because other customers are more likely to be completely honest.  Allowing customers to post reviews and share real comments about their experiences is evidence that the company is beloved.  This helps to build trust in the brand and builds community among the customers.

By delivering top-level service and allowing customers to engage with the brand and one another, companies can help turn customers into fans… die-hard, raving fans.  Create the kind of fans who will willingly put cheese wedges on their heads and pay $80 per ticket and sit in the freezing cold to cheer the Green Bay Packers to victory.  Create the kind of fans who will run like a pack of wild animals through the street chasing a Pokemon Go.  Don’t wait… go engage and dazzle those customers now!

Quote of the Week

“Customers don’t just want another cool product or service, they want to have an experience worth sharing.” Bernard Kelvin Clive

[1] August 2017, Companies which received the highest share of negative responses to their customer service in the United States in 2017,

[2] January 1, 1996, By: Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles, Raving Fans – Hardcover, Harper Collins, NY

[3] March 1, 2018, By:  Isaac Mostovicz , LinkedIn Contributor,

[4] March 2, 2018, By:  Katarina Garcia, LinkedIn Contributor,

[5] March 4, 2013, Extreme Customer Service:  Lessons from Companies that Go Above and Beyond, Fast Company,


© 2018, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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