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Who are your raving fans?

One of the greatest challenges the cannabis industry faces is entrepreneurs and managers who think they are reinventing the business wheel just because that wheel happens to smell like a skunk and make people smile, giggle and eat pizza. And so, this is for all you “green” business people out there, even if it isn’t ABOUT everyone’s favorite magnificent flower.

People say they care what their customers think, but do they strive to understand WHY their customers feel a certain way? Tabulating some “How Did We Do?” scorecards and addressing undeniable trends is kind of like cramming before a test, but not actually learning anything.

Everyone knows that a dissatisfied patron is more likely to express his or her crabby opinion than a happy one. Satisfaction creates pacifists, but anger breeds revolutionaries. Comment boxes are like the wombs malcontents wish they could crawl back into. Like death, taxes and Jerry Jones’ mummified face, you can count on the disgruntled traveler shouting from the rooftops about their terrible experience at the hotel in Florence. Never mind that they reserved the cheapest room and their biggest complaint was the slow, free, Wi-Fi. Years later they’ll still be blabbering about that “horrible hotel” in Italy even if the person they’ve cornered is researching a trip to Germany.

Satisfied customers frequently share their warm and fuzzies, but usually it’s after they are asked for an opinion. Ken Blanchard’s masterful Raving Fans examines how to take a customer who’s content and turn them into an energized brand ambassador. After all, shouldn’t their voice be heard just as loudly as the doom and gloomer? If your job is customer service, your greatest concern should be the beefiest part of the bell curve — those people who don’t comment unless asked, at which point they often say everything was “fine” or “good.” Only an ostrich covering his tail feathers would count such unenthusiastic, passive respondents in the positive column of his spreadsheet.

What those people are really expressing is that they’re relieved they didn’t have a bad experience. That they don’t feel ripped off. This is one of Blanchard’s central points. Now, more than ever, the bar is lower than an Olympic limbo contest. That was in Rio right? While the absence of a negative is a positive in many life situations — if I am plunking down a few hundred bucks for a meal it would be nice if I didn’t have to muster up a half-hearted smile when the maître d asks how everything was.

Once upon a time, you could skate by, not worrying about those people, but not anymore.  Today’s world is “more intimate than a bride and groom on their wedding night” (credit to Bono). If you allow dissatisfaction or apathy to walk out the door, it’s much more likely that social media will enable those customers to blast their feelings around the world. Trip Advisor is awesome if you are a GM running a resort that is well staffed and frequently remodeled. But if the owner’s idea of thread count is the actual threads hanging from the pillowcases and the patio furniture has mold on it dating back to Bill and Monica in the Oval, good luck addressing your critics online without sounding defensive. Speaking of which, why, in all walks of life, do people penalize you for ‘looking defensive’ when that is precisely what they’ve asked you to do, defend yourself?!

Raving Fans was published in 1993. Blanchard couldn’t have seen social media coming and yet his analysis and recommendations are quite literally a textbook for using today’s customer satisfaction channels effectively. Which is my point — there’s still a difference between service and marketing. Social media might be the stage, but it is not the script. The flag bearers of the future love to taunt old-schoolers as being dinosaurs who are crippled from understanding how to leverage the technology.  It is undeniable that a big piece of today’s consumer perception involves “starting the conversation” and ongoing “stakeholder engagement.” But here’s a newsflash — most service still happens BEFORE the tweeting. Yes, the messaging and reviews do influence the brand, it’s sales and marketing, but all the Facebooking in the world never makes up for a dirty counter or rude bud-tender.

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