By Carey Smith
Every decent company has its own faithful, loyal, and hard core base of customers who embrace the products and services.
Conventional: Find people to like you on Facebook
On the Contrary: Engage people who challenge you in person
Every (decent) company has them, the faithful, the loyal, the hard core base of customers who embrace your products and services. At Big Ass Fans, we call them ‘super fans.’ From our first-to-respond Facebook commenters to the retired engineers who call customer service to offer a point-by-point analysis of each feature of our latest product, our super fans are like family. And, like a real family, they are the first to praise and the first to criticize any new service, product or campaign.
Relationships are an investment, and super fans ask for the most time and resources. Especially in the early days, when manpower is scarce, it’s easy to view people who demand attention as a drain on your energy. But, cutting off a relationship with a customer, even one that’s time-consuming or negative, hurts your brand more than it helps your schedule. No PR-comeback campaign or social strategy will outperform these five simple proactive tips to building brand loyalty.
1) Give Your Company a Personality
Be the company you want to talk to at a party. Be friendly, accessible and genuine. Big Ass Fans is funny and brash because people who work here want to make each other laugh. We crack ourselves up first, then we try to share that with our customers.
But our playfulness is only a fraction of our company personality. The rest of it is hard work, usefulness and trustworthiness. We don’t think about grabbing customer attention–our real goal is to earn respect.
2) Be Good at What You Do
It’s simple, but it’s important: Products that show craftsmanship and quality are increasingly rare.
In a world of expendable goods, people go crazy about cars that don’t break down (Subaru), food that lasts beyond the parking lot (Costco) and experiences that are fun (Disney). The first step to becoming a love–or even a like–brand is being the best in your field. If you aren’t striving to be the best, you won’t.
3) Ask People About Their Lives
Caring about customers doesn’t mean just fixing their problems and checking them off your list. It means listening and then digging deeper.
Our favorite question to ask our do-it-yourselfers, tinkerers and super-fans is “can you send us a picture?” Then, they let us inside their homes, garages, warehouses. In that relationship we learn more than a hundred market research surveys could ever teach us.
4) Make Friends With Haters
As the kids say, haters gonna hate. Most people shy away from criticism, but from your customers, any kind of feedback–even the bad kind–is a signal that they’re invested. When they call in to give you an hour-long lecture on what they want your product to do that it doesn’t do yet, listen. Then invite them in.
When we have a particularly tricky customer, we often ask them to join one of our beta-testing groups. If they care enough to complain, then they are probably the kind of people who will give us the best feedback.
5) Act Small, Think Big
None of these tricks work if you relegate the customer experience to a customer service department. Even though we’ve grown our team from 200 to 700 in the past five years, we try to stay as flat as possible. Open offices and drive-by style conversations get a bad reputation as productivity killers. We ignore those studies because our goal in the office isn’t building widgets, but staying accessible to customers.
A good idea or a crazy picture from customer service spreads through headquarters like wildfire. Most of them aren’t scalable, or practical, but when you put them all together, you get a real time picture of how people use your products (instead of just how they think they’ll use them). That points you in the right direction for big projects like market research and product development. It makes business less risky and more fun when you collapse the distance between the customer and the inner workings of the business.