Could your worst detractors also be your greatest fans?

When I think about businesses I love, business I use frequently or businesses I’ve grown to rely on, I feel an immediate emotional reaction – this got me thinking; love them or loathe them, fans and detractors have a lot more in common than we might think, so this week, I thought we could explore the emotional element of customer experience through the eyes of fans and detractors, and see what we might learn.  I’ll take 2 examples , one transactional customer experience (I don’t want it, but I need it) and one experiential customer experience (I don’t need it, but I really want it).

“The Tube”: Like millions of people in London and the South East of England, I use the London Underground service daily to get to work. Established back in the Victorian era, the current London Underground network is a complex mix of trains, buses, trams and automated rail services that powers London and the surrounding area.  Due to its age and complexity, it regularly creaks and groans with the strain of passengers, especially in the rush hour.  The first thing I always think of is hot, overcrowded trains, delays, grumpy staff, expensive fares – all pretty negative thoughts.

At the same time, when visitors criticise the buses & “tube”, as it’s locally known, I spring to the defense of this amazing and sophisticated feat of engineering.  I wouldn’t give it up for the world, despite the frustrations I feel as a daily user.  Sure, it needs a huge amount of investment & modernisation, but it’s an iconic part of London – the double-decker bus is one of Britain’s most visible exports!  So why do I feel love & loathing at the same time?  Am I a fan or a detractor?  I’m in fact both – I need this service to reach work, visit friends, go shopping – I rely on London Underground to get me from A to B.  When they deliver on their promise, I’m happy.  When delays and overcrowding result in me arriving at my destination hot & bothered, I’m seriously grumpy.

I clearly have a strong emotional connection with London Underground.  I can’t live without them, but there’s also a big part of me that doesn’t want to live without them.  The fact that I swing from being a fan to a detractor shows that even with no nurture, and very little human engagement, an emotional connection has been established.  When I think what London Underground could do to nurture my fan side more and reduce my detractor feelings, three things spring to mind:

  1. Provide the service you charge me for – trains on time, with enough seats for everyone!
  2. Communicate more – if there are problems, be open and honest and manage my expectations better!
  3. Show me more of the iconic personality and history – visits to the London Transport Museum Depot, where you can see unique historical vehicles and signage or visits to disused stations make us tube geeks so excited!

“BA”: When I think about a different transport provider who I choose to use every couple of weeks for leisure purposes, British Airways is my number one choice.  The flagship national airline of the UK, I have refined the art of making the airport & aircraft experience an integral part of my trips.  Arriving at the airport, swiftly proceeding to security to the comfort and calm of the lounge, enjoy a glass of champagne and a bite to eat before my flight, I’m already enjoying my holiday before even reaching the plane.  Once on board, charming staff, who take time to engage me, surprise me by using my name, a decent meal and maybe a little more champagne, and I arrive at my holiday destination already in the holiday spirit.  Because I enjoy the experience so much, I travel every couple of weeks, flying out for short breaks to plenty of European cities.  I encourage all of my friends to join me on trips, and as a result of my fan behaviour, I have encouraged numerous friends to change their own behaviour, and regularly take weekend breaks that they would not have thought to do.

This is exactly what any modern business wants – free marketing, additional business, more revenue.  Word of mouth advocacy is so much more effective than traditional marketing.  A glossy advert or a slick video cannot compete with my photos and stories when it comes to influencing my friends and convincing them to travel more often.  British Airways don’t reward me or incentivise me to do this, I do this because I want my friends to share in the same fun experience that I am having.  British Airway‘s financial benefit from this is not interesting to me.

But I can also be a big detractor.  This year, I’ve had numerous flights cancelled, many delays, some for many hours, and it frustrates me greatly.  When I don’t receive proper updates and information, I follow the example of Gen Y and take to social media to air my gripes.  I feel upset that service issues and disruption detract from my experience, curtailing my plans or dampening my anticipated experience.  When traveling with friends, I feel a sense of responsibility for THEIR experience.  After all, I was the one who convinced them to splash out on the trip.  That additional emotional responsibility weighs heavy on my conscience.

Few if any businesses think about think about this emotional aspect for their fans.  If you create a network of new customers, the halo effect of a positive experience is well known, but more research needs to be done on the impact of a poor experience for customers who came to the business through a fan.  So what can British Airways do to help me remain a fan and avoid me becoming a detractor?

  1. Acknowledge my status as a fan – when there is a group of us traveling together, invariably one of us is a fan, so finding out who that person is is important!
  2. Communicate better when things might go or have gone wrong – as the fan who brought together that group of travelers, better communicate means I won’t be left with egg on my face!
  3. Give your fans chance to interact and engage with the business – just because you’re a multi-national, you don’t have to be faceless and corporate!

Interestingly, for both experiential and transactional customer experiences, making sure fans stay fans (at least for me) require very similar corrective actions.  I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts on this topic, so thinking about your own or your customers’ experiences, why not share you observations?


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