Converting ‘Zombie Loyalists’: Peter Shankman on Quality Customer Service

May 1, 2015

Imagine finding a product you love. Now imagine discovering a product you love so much that you find ways to bring it up in every conversation you have, and end up touting the wonders of the company behind it.

Too bad that rarely happens. According to the business book “Zombie Loyalists: Using Great Service to Create Rabid Fans” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), 80 percent of businesses believe that they employ “superior” customer service, but only 8 percent of customers actually agree.

“The general expectation of any given customer in any given service situation is that they’ll be treated like crap and will leave neutral at best, unhappy at worst,” author Peter Shankman writes.

Enter the idea of “zombie loyalists” or “fervent fans [who] actively help companies increase their customer base, brand awareness and revenue and will do grassroots [public relations], marketing and advertising, without being paid or asked, every time they interact with the brand… They’re people so passionate about something they love that they’ll tell you about it at every opportunity,” Shankman writes.

Or, for those who aren’t of the apocalyptic mindset, Publishers Weekly describes Shankman’s business model as “turning satisfied customers into avid brand ambassadors.”

Shankman, a marketing and social media expert, author and founder of various companies including ShankMinds Business Masterminds, opens his book by telling the story behind the inspiration for “Zombie Loyalists.” While on a plane, he expressed his enthusiasm about the tech vest he was wearing to hold all of his electronics. By inadvertently “selling” the product, his seatmate ended up buying five of the vests during the flight.

“I’d done what all zombies are trained to do — I converted a regular person into one of the flock,” Shankman writes.

From sending personalized emails and “bringing random amazement into normal situations,” (BRAINS), good customer service creates fans who will share their positive experiences, whether it’s by word-of-mouth or through social media.

Tactics spoke with Shankman about his book and how to achieve exemplary customer service.

The motif of a zombie is a dramatic one. Were you ever worried about alienating readers? Or did you always see it as an accessible comparison that you thought would resonate well?

Zombies are quite popular right now, between top-rated TV shows, books and even the United States government putting together a “Zombie Attack Awareness” page. So alienating readers never entered my mind.

Rather, I tried to take the topic of customer service, which has never been more important in the history of our economy, and offer my thoughts and ideas on how to improve it in a way that would be easily understood — and more important, would stand out in the world of new business books.

You encourage businesses to “abandon points programs and mass emails” and involve everyone, “from the CEO to the guy who cleans the table,” in customer service. How do you make this a company-wide endeavor?

Customer service isn’t just a project you can give to a department to complete. It needs to be at the core of the company itself, and radiate out so that it permeates every single employee, so that they want to do great things for their customers.

Think about it: To lose a customer forever — and everyone in that customer’s network, thanks to the ability to share information today as fast as we do — that customer just has to have one bad experience with one employee within that company, with no resolution.

To put it another way, it takes every employee, embracing the knowledge that they contribute to a customer’s experience with them, to keep the company on top, but it only takes one employee’s bad interaction with the same customer to dramatically hurt the company. Businesses need to realize that customer service needs to be at the center of everything they do, as we speed forward into this “experience economy.”

What’s the best display of “zombie loyalty” that you’ve seen?

I’ve seen zombie loyalty in countless ways — from the hotel front-desk clerk who noticed I arrived late because of a delayed flight, and had complimentary dinner sent to my room instead of giving me a list of restaurants open late, to the dry cleaner who knows I travel a lot, and turned around a suit of mine in 12 hours, without being asked, “because he thought it might help.”

It’s never the grand, over-the-top things that will turn a business’ customers into zombie loyalists; it’s always the little things, the things we never expect.

Renée Ruggeri
Renée Ruggeri is the editorial assistant for PRSA’s publications. Originally from Warwick, N.Y., she has bachelor’s degrees in English and journalism from the University of Richmond and a certificate in publishing from New York University.

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