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Guest Post By WSJ And NYT Bestselling Author - Shep Hyken

The Cult of the Customer: Moving Toward Amazement

Shep Hyken

Shep Hyken

The word cult might get a bad rap sometimes, but it has a variety of definitions. A common theme among the different meanings is a group of people with a shared interest, outlook or attribute. This could range from religious groups to people who enthusiastically share the love of a hobby or sport. At the heart of it is a connection through a shared perspective.

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So how does this relate to business, and more specifically, customer service? Cult comes from the Latin word cultus, which means “care” or “tending.” Knowing that, we can start to see how the word ties in with our goals of taking care of customers and tending to employees. And, the word cult is part of other words we use all the time, like when we talk about cultivating a culture inside an organization that keeps the focus on our customers.

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More than 12 years ago, I wrote a book, The Cult of the Customer, which will be re-released on March 17. The revised edition has been updated with new stats, facts, modified case studies and more. It describes the five cults or phases that customers go through when they do business with you – from the very first time to the point at which they become loyal repeat customers. The phases are the same for every customer. One leads into to the next as you take customers on the journey through your amazing customer service and experience. Here are the five cults that customers go through:

  1. Uncertainty:

    Before doing business with you, customers don’t know what to expect. Even if you have a great reputation for customer service, until they experience it for themselves, the uncertainty is still there. New customers hope for a good experience, and you hope that your business relationship is off to a great start.
  2. Alignment:

    The customer is starting to understand his or her relationship with your company. The Cult of Alignment begins with a promise you make to the customer, in the form of advertising or perhaps through conversation with an employee. Maybe you promise low prices, fast delivery or excellent service, and the customer experience should deliver on that promise. Things are coming together. The customer is beginning to understand your company’s culture and, hopefully, enjoying the experience.
  3. Experience:

    The more the customer interacts with your company, the further they are advancing beyond their initial uncertainty. The interaction could be with the employees or even a website. During this Cult of Experience, they are learning what it is really like to do business with you, and hoping that the good experiences will continue as the relationship goes forward.
  4. Ownership:

    Moving completely past uncertainty after a series of predictable, better-than-average experiences, customers gain a feeling of ownership. They own their experience with you. They know what will happen. There is a sense of trust that continues to grow until, hopefully, they become the loyal customers that every business wants. They make positive statements about you using one particular word: always. “They always help me out when I need it,” or “They always call me back right away.” That word, used in an affirmative statement, indicates their ownership of the experience and that they are ready to keep moving forward.
  5. Amazement:

    The Cult of Amazement is the culmination of the customers’ journey through their consistently above-average experiences with you. This is where you want them to be. They have journeyed beyond the Cult of Ownership, where they know they can always count on your level of service … but they could still slide back into uncertainty if there is a problem. The key is in how you manage any problems or complaints. Do it well and they will continue to be amazed by your service. They might even say something like, “Even when there is a problem, I can always count on them to make it right.” The Cult of Amazement … that is where you want your customers to be!

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Think about your customers. Can you see how they are moving through the five cults, from first-time shopper to repeat buyer to loyal customer? Those in the Cult of Amazement are not only loyal, they spread positive word-of-mouth to others, encouraging them to start their own journey with your business. So welcome them in to your cult – the Cult of the Customer!