customer engagement

Become a Fan: Why Customer Engagement is the New Customer Service

The following is excerpted from “Know What You’re ForA Growth Strategy for Work, An Even Better Strategy for Life” by Jeff Henderson. Copyright © 2019 by Jeff Henderson. Used by permission of Zondervan.

Chubbies shorts. The mere mention of this company and product often brings a smile. It’s almost an oxymoron—two things that don’t necessarily go together.

Like jumbo shrimp. Pretty ugly. And the Utah Jazz.

Chubbies is a brand with raving fans. Their sworn enemy is cargo shorts, and their motto is “life is too short for pants.”

If you think this sounds like a company started by a bunch of frat boys, well, you’d be right.

But what they’ve done and how far they’ve come in such a short amount of time is a lesson for us all. If you like the idea of having a loyal legion of fans but achieving this at a very, very low cost, then you should keep reading. What they have done is smart, scrappy, and, here’s the best news, fairly easy to replicate. For quite a while now, businesses have been taught that the secret sauce to success is creating raving fans. The more raving fans you have, the more loyal customers you have. And while this makes perfect sense, what exactly is a raving fan?

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Here’s one of my favorite definitions of a raving fan from Chick-fil-A.

A raving fan, from their perspective, is someone who does three things:

  • Pays full price
  • Visits more often
  • Tells others about the business

I like this. It’s still relevant. It’s still vital. It’s also changing.

The pathway to creating raving fans in a highly competitive, ever-changing business world isn’t that easy. Yes, creating raving fans is important. How you get there is changing, and the quicker you get there, the better it will be, for you and your organization. To help us get there, let me introduce you to the essence of the FOR strategy. I believe this is the pathway to future success for any organization that wants to thrive and grow.

Winning organizations of tomorrow will be more concerned with becoming fans of their customers instead of convincing customers to become fans of the organization.

Adopting a FOR strategy is more than semantics. It is a call for a new way to view your business. Ultimately, customers aren’t a means to an end. Instead, the business is a means to an end.

And while most organizations would argue they already know this, I’d counter by simply saying, “Knowing and doing are two different concepts.”

In fact, it’s rare—very rare—to see a company shifting the spotlight from the business to the customer. Customers are people, and people love to be seen, celebrated and recognized. Often, a company is too busy talking about themselves instead of talking with the customer. Product shots and new deals too often get in the way of this.

Related: Build Your Nation of True Fans

It’s why I love what Chubbies has done with their Instagram account.

To give you an example, let’s compare Chubbies to Home Depot and Lowe’s. Honestly, it’s an unfair comparison in some ways to both sides. And yet, let’s do it anyway. We’ll learn something as we do.

As you know, our home improvement friends are both multibillion-dollar, ginormous enterprises.

Chubbies, on the flip side, will hit annual revenues of more than $10 million. While $10 million is still a lot of money, in comparison to HD and Lowe’s, it’s, well, short. And yet, their traction on social media would lead you to believe Chubbies is the multibillion-dollar enterprise. Granted, you can’t deposit Instagram likes and comments into the bank. However, I would be careful not to dismiss the connection between those two.

While Home Depot and Lowe’s both have Instagram followers of more than 700,000 and 600,000, respectively, little Chubbies is coming in at more than 400,000. (This should cause you to raise an eyebrow).

Furthermore, a typical post by Chubbies far outpaces the likes and comments that either Home Depot or Lowe’s receives.

For example, as of today when I’m writing this, the most likes Home Depot received in the last month on an Instagram post was more than 8,800. The most likes Chubbies received in the last month on one post was more than 16,000—almost twice as many.

For Lowe’s, I went back two months to find one that gained as much traction on Instagram. It hit 3,500 likes.

It’s easy to dismiss this, and it’s also easy to overexaggerate this. Both are problematic.

Instead, let’s take the mindset that there’s something to learn from this. And again, I’m not trying to be unfair to Home Depot and Lowe’s. I’m trying to be helpful.

So why does a men’s shorts company have twice as much engagement on social media compared to these two giants of the home improvement industry?

Much of it has to do with where the spotlight is. Chubbies features their customers, while Home Depot and Lowe’s feature products. Products don’t engage on social media; people do.

Dismissing this example isn’t a win. Leaning in and learning is.

Sure, you can be more nimble if you’re a small company like Chubbies. But in some ways, that’s my point, especially if you relate more to Chubbies than a multibillion-dollar enterprise.

The question we need to ask is, “How is Chubbies achieving this kind of social media traction on Instagram, while Home Depot and Lowe’s are not?” Another question to ask, “How is Chubbies creating this kind of customer engagement that generates a loyal fan base?”

Simply put, in many ways, Chubbies has chosen to become a fan of their customers by spotlighting them on its Instagram feed. They have in essence turned over a large portion of their posts to their customers.

When you visit their Instagram page, you’ll see lots of photos of customers. These are original posts from customers wearing Chubbies in which they tagged the company in hopes that they see it. When the team at Chubbies sees these posts, they often put them on the company’s Instagram page—just like the customer was hoping they would.

It’s a win-win for both. The customer is rewarded by seeing their post on the Chubbies Instagram page, and Chubbies is leveraging the credibility of a customer who’s talking about their love for the brand. Chubbies is able to say, “See what our customers are saying about us.” It’s such a smart, inexpensive way to build an emotional connection with your customers.

This is the power of being FOR the customer. When you talk more about the customer than you do the business, the customer talks more about your business.

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Sure, some people may not like a brand liking their social media posts, but when they are tagging the company, it means they secretly hope the company will. And you don’t need me to tell you the research about what happens biologically when someone gets a photo liked on Instagram, Facebook, etc. It’s powerful. And yet most brands never even go there to engage with their customers.

The larger point, however, isn’t about social media.

The larger point is this: in order to create fans, you must become a fan.

This will require a proactive strategy we call “FOR the Customer.” Very, very few brands are actually doing this. The spotlight is still shining brightly on the business.

That’s great news for you because it means there’s an opening here—you can proactively engage with customers in their world and on their terms, planting seeds that can yield a lifetime of results. And you don’t need me to tell you the value of a lifelong customer. Great service alone no longer generates lifelong customers in and of itself. The power of lifelong loyalty happens when you surprise, wow, and engage them. It’s why customer engagement is the new customer service.

“Know What You’re For” is available now and can be purchased via 

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