A group of runners who meet every Saturday morning, rain or shine, to run together can be called a … [+]
There’s nothing scary about the word cult—that is, once you understand what the word actually means. There are plenty of definitions of the word cult, ranging from extreme religious groups to people who enthusiastically share a common interest or hobby, like a group of runners who meet every Saturday morning, rain or shine, to run together.
You’ll find the word cult inside other words you use all the time—words like culture and cultivate. Cult comes from the Latin word cultus, which originally meant “care or tending.” I envision a definition of the word that involves creating a culture inside an organization that focuses on taking care of customers and tending to employees.
This leads me to the resurrection of a book I wrote more than 10 years ago, The Cult of the Customer, which will be re-released on March 17. The revised edition features plenty of updates, including new stats and facts, modified case studies and more. The book focuses on five cults or phases that customers go through over the course of a business relationship—from the first time they choose to do business with you to the point at which they become repeat, loyal customers. Every customer goes through these stages on their journey to being amazed by your customer service and experience. Here are the five phases that all customers go through:
1. Uncertainty – The first time customers do business with you, they can only hope it will be a good experience. The word hope is an interesting word. It has an air of uncertainty to it. Because customers haven’t experienced your customer service and experience, they are uncertain. Maybe your organization has a great reputation, but customers have to find out for themselves.
2. Alignment – This is when the customer moves from uncertainty to understanding their relationship and experience with your company. It is based on a promise you make to the customer. This could be in the form of advertising or something an employee tells the customer. It could be a promise of good service, low prices, fast delivery, etc. As customers do business with you, they begin to understand these promises, your company’s culture, and more importantly, why they might enjoy doing business with you. But it’s still too early for them to tell for sure, as they have yet to fully experience what you and your company are promising.
3. Experience – Customers quickly move into the Cult of Experience as they interact with employees—or even a website. They are moving further away from uncertainty as they experience what it’s like to do business with you. But there is still a hint of uncertainty. They may like what they’ve experienced thus far, but also wonder—or at least hope—if it is going to happen again the next time they do business with you.
4. Ownership – This is when customers move completely away from uncertainty into a feeling of ownership, in that they own their experience with you. This comes from the consistent and predictable experiences they have with you—experiences that are ideally better than average, more than just satisfactory. They know it will happen. They trust it will happen. The more it does happen, the more likely they are to go from a repeat customer to a loyal customer. They use the word always in front of positive statements like, “They are always so helpful” or “They always call me back quickly.” The word always followed by something positive not only implies they own their experience with you, but it also implies they are ready to move to the next cult in their journey.
5. Amazement – This is the cult you want your customers to be in. When you have consistent, predictable above-average experiences, you are in the Cult of Amazement. Remember, the Cult of Ownership is when customers know they can always count on better-than-average service. However, if there is a problem, the customer could immediately regress to the Cult of Uncertainty. This probably will happen the first time or two there’s a problem. But if you manage those problems and complaints well, customers will stay in Amazement and say things like, “Even when there is a problem, I can always count on them to take care of me.” The Cult of Amazement … this is where you want your customers to be!
There you have it. The five cults or phases that customers experience as they go from first-time buyer to repeat customer—and ultimately to customer evangelist, one who will sing your praises to the rest of the world. What’s more, employees go through these phases too! And, when your employees are in the Cult of Amazement, it’s likely your customers are, too. So you see, cult isn’t a scary word, especially if the cult you belong to is The Cult of the Customer!