Raving Fans is a book that presents ‘a revolutionary approach to customer service’ in the form of a parable-style story. The hero (or protagonist) in the tale has no name other than the Area Manager, and the story revolves around his encounter with a fairy godmother who teaches him what it means to provide outstanding customer service.
The lessons learned include how to define a vision; how to understand what a customer really wants; how to set up effective systems; and how to deliver your vision, ramping up your customer service to turn customers into raving fans.
My Top 3 Takes from the Summary
Merely ‘satisfied’ customers are unlikely to remain loyal customers.
Outstanding customer service creates loyal customers who become raving fans.
Creating raving fans takes vision, understanding your customers, and delivering your vision “plus one per cent.”
Satisfied Customers Just Aren’t Good Enough
A key message in the tale is that satisfied customers just aren’t good enough. Turning customers into raving fans who want to tell everyone they meet about your company’s products or services is at the heart of the book’s contents, and it was written by leadership gurus Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles to help managers and executives achieve this level of fandom, and boost their bottom-line results in the process.
On his first day in a new company, the Area Manager discovers that each of the people to hold the position before him lasted no longer than eight months in the role, having failed to provide the customer service expectations of the company president. This leads to the realisation that staying any longer in the role himself will mean discovering the secret to outstanding customer service.
Feeling slightly overwhelmed by the enormity of the task, and acknowledging that he actually knows very little about customer service, the Area Manager finds himself being greeted by his fairy godmother – a male fairy godmother who goes by the name of Charlie.
Charlie, unlike any stereotypical fairy godmother, has no magic wand or floaty dress, but he does read minds, predict the weather, play excellent golf, and know everything there is to know about providing great customer service. For any readers questioning why a man is in the traditionally female role, the authors offer the explanation that his celestial employer is an advocate of equal opportunities, and Charlie was hired to fill the quota of men needed in the fairy godmother ranks!
Charlie has arrived in the Area Manager’s life to take him on a journey that will lead to understanding what it takes to offer the elusive customer service valued so much by his new company president, and it’s made clear that he only ever imparts his wisdom to those ready and willing to hear his advice on how to create "raving fans." In short, the Area Manager will learn everything he needs to know to set himself apart from those who failed in the role before home, and along the way, he’ll encounter a number of successful businesspeople that Charlie has mentored previously.
The journey begins in a company that’s only just holding its head above water – a place where the customer service “stinks.” Employees are rude to customers and no one smiles, making it a place that customers will quickly leave behind if a competitor comes along offering something better. However, for the time being, nothing better is available, so customers remain and the company stays in business. The real problem lies ahead: being no worse than current competitors leaves the business unprepared for the mass exodus of customers the moment they’re given a better offer elsewhere.
The lesson Charlie wants the Area Manager to learn from this encounter is that satisfied customers just aren’t good enough. The moment something better comes along, those customers will jump ship and take their business there, and the only way to prevent this from happening is to turn satisfied customers into “raving fans.” Not only do these loyal customers keep coming back, but they also bring friends, family, colleagues, neighbours, and everyone they know to the business, singing its praises wherever they go. These customers are the people that turn a company into a successful company, demonstrating that excellent customer service is an essential element of becoming a booming business.
Charlie’s Three Secrets
As the Area Manager’s journey continues, incorporating a few rounds of golf along the way, Charlie has three secrets to creating raving fans that he wants to pass on.
Decide What You Want to Do
The first secret is to create a clear vision of the level of service you want to provide for your customers. What does outstanding customer service look like to you? To help the Area Manager’s understanding, Charlie takes him to meet Leo Varley, the owner of Varley's Department Store. Here, he experiences outstanding customer service for himself from the moment he approaches the store. A greeter welcomes him, and then a clerk locates a book for him that was actually out of stock – going out to get it from a nearby store and then gift wrapping it for him. He notes that the store’s toilet facilities are immaculate and that Leo (the owner) works at a desk in the centre of the store, thereby encouraging customers to engage with him as they shop.
All of this represents Leo’s vision of excellent customer service, hammering home the message that deciding what you want to do for your customers is a crucial decision that must be made. The Area Manager must formulate a clear and finely detailed vision of what his business looks like, what it can do to satisfy the needs of customers, and how employees can be empowered to serve customers better and do things differently to competitors.
On their next stop, Charlie takes the Area Manager to a grocery store owned by Sally. Here, he experiences valet parking, store advisors, a computerised shopping service, rapid checkout, automated billing, nutritional advice – and a free shoeshine service! These amenities represent another vision of outstanding customer service, and Sally explains that by creating a “vision of perfection” centred on the needs and desires of her customers, she was able to turn her struggling grocery store into a thriving success story. Step by step, she turned her dream of perfection into a reality, attracting raving fans in the process.
Discover What Your Customers Really Want
The second secret shared by Charlie is to find out what your customers really want. He takes the Area Manager to meet Bill the plant manager, a manufacturer with his finger on the pulse of his customers’ exact needs, to learn more. Bill explains that this secret takes the vision of perfection created in the first secret into the realms of reality by adding the manager’s wants to the wants of customers. By asking questions and listening carefully to the responses given by customers, a manager can find ways to adapt the company vision to fit with the realities of what customers actually want. He points out that every customer will likely have their own particular wants, but each one can provide valuable insight that helps to build a bigger picture of overall customer needs. Bill also comments that some customers will want more than the manager’s original vision of perfection, and it’s then up to the manager to decide whether to incorporate that want or to tell the customer to look elsewhere for a company that can satisfy that particular need.
The authors acknowledge that there may be times when a customer's vision for your business is so different from your vision that their wants simply can’t be incorporated. Customer service is extremely important, but there are going to be limits, and those limits define the business. If a customer’s wants fall outside the company’s vision of good customer service, it’s better to let the customer go than to attempt to adjust the original vision to accommodate someone who will most likely be very hard to satisfy. Letting them go saves the waste of resources and money spent on fighting what is probably a losing battle, and this is something the former CEO of Southwest Airlines was reportedly famous for doing.
On the rare occasion that Herb Kelleher found himself dealing with an unsatisfied customer, he chose not to make any further effort to satisfy them. Legend has it that a frequent Southwest flyer was constantly dissatisfied with everything the airline did. She repeatedly wrote letters of complaint to the airline about its policies, the flight attendants’ uniforms, the lack of in-flight meals, and even the overly casual atmosphere on the flights, leaving the employees in Southwest's Customer Relations Department at a loss over what to do next. They sent the woman's letters to the CEO, and he wrote back: "Dear Mrs Crabapple, We will miss you. Love, Herb."
There may also be times when a good customer offers input that could be useful if incorporated into the vision. Taking a moment to consider how this valuable customer’s needs might be accommodated could elevate good service to outstanding service, and therefore create more raving fans, but a decision will need to be made over just how far beyond the lines of your original vision you’re prepared to go. Keeping your business in line with your goals remains important.
Bill gives the Area Manager two pieces of advice: a customer’s silence speaks volumes, and a mundane response from a customer such as “fine” is not good news. He explains that “fine” in response to questions about a customer’s experience with your company, or no response at all, suggests that you’re not doing enough to keep them as a customer when a competitor appears on the scene offering better. Quiet customers can easily lull you into complacency, so ask sincere questions that matter, and respond with sincere answers, thereby letting your customers know that you are interested, you care, and you’re listening. People love to be heard, so really listening can help turn satisfied customers into raving fans.
Deliver the Vision Consistently
On the way to another golf meeting with Charlie, the Area Manager meets Dennis the cab driver. Dennis drives him efficiently and comfortably to his destination, but he also provides more than just a cab ride. He opens and closes the door for his customer, offers a selection of beverages, a choice of radio stations, and ensures a current newspaper is available. On top of that, his cab is sparkling clean inside and out, making Dennis another example of exemplary customer service.
The third secret to creating raving fans is to deliver your vision “plus one per cent” – that little bit extra – something Dennis achieves with his cab business. Charlie takes the Area Manager to visit a perfect example of a customer-friendly gasoline service station to further illustrate the meaning of a little bit extra. At the service station, he finds the attendants running to the car, pumping it full of gas, checking the engine, washing the windows… and they do it all with a smile. The owner of the station tells the Area Manager that delivering “plus one” on your customer promise is something that must be done consistently, not occasionally because success is built on consistency. To create raving fans, you need to make realistic promises and then meet them every time, perhaps even over-delivering on those promises whenever possible.
Andrew adds that it’s through continuous incremental improvement that a business achieves steady growth. He calls this “The Rule of One Per Cent” and explains that by improving just 1 per cent of the business each week, a company can become more than 50 per cent better than it was in just a year. This steady, incremental improvement keeps a business growing without upsetting customers who already love it just as it is.
The insights shared by the fictional characters of Leo, Sally, and Andrew brilliantly draw attention to the three secrets of taking customer service to the next level in the real world, giving the authors a means of getting the message across that Raving Fans don’t just materialise out of nowhere. Although written in 1993, it’s a timeless story of building a more customer-focused organisation, and in its telling, readers are given the tools they need to attract their own band of loyal customers that become raving fans.
The genius of the author's characters and the relevance of the story make the contents of Raving Fans a must-read for inquisitive and visionary managers everywhere. It may be make-believe, but it’s an entertaining and insightful tale packed full of real-world wisdom.
Bio of the Authors
Ken Blanchard is a business consultant, motivational speaker, and author. He has published over 60 books, with his most successful title, The One Minute Manager, selling millions of copies worldwide. He is also the Chief Spiritual Officer of The Ken Blanchard Companies, an international management training and consulting firm.
Sheldon Bowles is president of Ode to Joy Limited, a successful diversified holding and management company. He became known as a customer service legend after founding and presiding over Domo Gasoline Corp., a business that he turned into one of Canada’s largest retail gasoline chains with his unique customer service initiatives and ‘gung-ho!’ employees.