An evangelist is traditionally defined as a person who seeks to convert others to their faith, but more recently it can also mean someone who talks about something with great enthusiasm. And while word of mouth has always been acknowledged to be the best advertising, that is particularly true in our era of social media and online reviews.

The article on evangelism marketing on Wikipedia (hey, at least I’m being honest about my source!), points out that “As they act independently, evangelist customers often become key influencers. The fact that evangelists are not paid or associated with any company make their beliefs perceived by others as credible and trustworthy.”   The article goes on to quote Guy Kawasaki, formerly of Apple Computer, as saying that evangelist customers spread their recommendations and recruit new customers out of pure belief, not for goods or money.

What makes a customer become an evangelist for your store?  I would say that there are two key points: you need to give personal service, and to exceed expectations.

Personal service, as I have often mentioned, is what sets an independent retailers apart from their big box competitors.  Online stores have tried to provide this by using algorithms that say “If you like this, you might also like that” as well as emails saying that they notice when you put something in your virtual shopping cart and then don’t complete the sale. But that’s not the same thing as getting a recommendation from a real human being.

Another aspect of personal service that a small shop can do well is showing concern and interest in a customer’s needs.  This is not always an efficient use of time, but we didn’t chose shopkeeping as a career so that we could squeeze the maximum potential profit out of every moment, did we?

Exceeding expectations can be more of a challenge.  Can you offer fancy gift wrapping, fulfill a special order, or carry a purchase out to the car? A customer might even feel you’ve gone beyond the average when you recommend another store when you’re out of stock on an item (better yet, call the other store to make sure it’s in stock there).  You can surprise a customer by mentioning that a less expensive item would be the better choice, or by offering a product demonstration.  Even taking an item out of its packaging or display case so that the customer can handle it is something that is beyond the expectation of many shoppers today.

Showing earnest appreciation for every purchase creates a final impression that may carry over to a recommendation when a customer is talking about his or her shopping experience (or writing an online review). A formal program that recognizes and rewards your top shoppers is also a good investment. You can’t intentionally create evangelical customers, but you can do your best to make sure that everyone that passes through your doors has a positive experience — especially those likely to be your most vocal fans.

Happy Retailing,
Carol “Orange” Schroeder