in Business

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Brand Loyalty, and the Power of Customer Service

My bed (well, it was close to this)See that awesome spread over to the right? This was exactly where I spent the early years of my life – curled up with Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello, and Raphael in my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles bed (water bed to be exact). I loved…no, I was obsessed with TMNT – and I was 100% loyal to them. I vividly remember my 6th birthday when a friend tried to give me a Street Sharks toy? Are you serious…Street Sharks?! Get that shit outta’ here. No Street Sharks, no Cowboys of Moo Mesa…I wanted ALL Turtles ALL the time.

It’s pure, unadulterated ‘brand’ loyalty at it’s finest – and something that sadly, I grew out of. Eventually (and as much as I regret this now) we had a garage sale and I sold all my TMNT memorabilia – most likely to spend it on a Tomagatchi or some other crap.

Now, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a pretty loose example of a ‘brand’ – but stay with me here. Fast forward to the ‘now’. What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about ‘brand loyalty’? If I asked you to list the brands you are 100% loyal to – does anything come to mind? For me…not so much.

I may be the minority, but I’m not the type of person who is 100% loyal to one particular brand. Subconsciously, we all make repeat buying decisions, ones that have been imprinted into our psyche since an early age, (TMNT is still awesome) but overall we’re easily swayed and persuaded to think and “act” a certain way when it comes to what we buy. We may have established a bond or connection with “Brand X” – but “Brand Y” can come in and, with VERY LITTLE EFFORT, really shake up that once long-time loyalty.

Making a Believer Out of Me is Easier than You Think

All we want, all anyone wants these days, is to feel valued and connected. While price is still a key determining factor of any buying decisions, it’s becoming more and more secondary to good old new fashioned customer service.

When we hear the term ‘customer service’ we think about a lot of different things – but at it’s core – it’s about taking care of the customer and making sure they feel valued – making sure that their doubts and fears are put to rest, that the buying decision comes at minimal risk, and ensuring that their needs are met.

But let’s go one (small) step beyond customer service. Customer Service +1 – That one thing that can really set you apart from the competition. When it comes down to it, we, as consumers, want a real connection (with a human being).

Even if you have a million customers, every single one of them (us) wants to feel special, like they’re you’re ONLY customer, that as an individual, they actually mean something in the big picture.  It sounds like a daunting task, treating every individual as a critical cog in the system – but that’s exactly what they are.

Without your customers, you’re nothing – my how often businesses tend to forget that critical point.

A little bit of attention goes a long way

That small “Plus 1″ thing can be just that – something small – even the tiniest act of going above and beyond can speak volumes. It can be sending a personalized email to thank someone for their patronage, or following up with someone on Twitter after they have voiced a complaint about in-store service and offering them a discount on their next visit (turning a negative into a positive is huge). Or, it can be taking things off-line…

I was shocked when I received a hand-written thank you note from Foiled Cupcakes a week after receiving a delivery of cupcakes, because it’s so rare in today’s world – yet it means so much – I’ll never forget it, and it impacted me so much, I’m here writing about it on my blog.

It doesn’t require a lot of effort to make a lasting impression – but it can forever impact your customer – it speaks to your brand image and overall desire to follow through, ensuring that every customer is pleased.

That’s how you create brand evangelists – people who will sing from the rooftops about how great you and your company is. If you’re not creating brand evangelists, you’re really missing out because, this just in, we trust our friends and colleagues a hell of a lot more than we trust your brand trying to push a sale.

That’s how you build a business, no, an empire. That’s how you develop passion and make people fall absolutely head over heels in love with your brand.

What are you doing to go above and beyond (plus 1)? Are you going the extra mile for your customers and clients? What incredible customer service experiences can you remember?

Add Your Voice



  1. I have a background in the real estate industry and before I came to ASU I did alot of work with my partner. I remember a time when a client needed to see a house at 10 p.m. I said hey I'll show you the place right now.

    When other agents would have been sleeping by then, there I was showing them a potential home. Its feels great when I think back at it — there's something about going that extra mile that makes the experience that much better. Would you agree bro?

  2. The question is….did you get the sale? :) But yes, it's something like this, being accommodating for your clients for customers, that may not take a ton of effort on your part, but really adds value to the overall experience for the person you're 'selling' to.

  3. I've had a job that was basically customer service. I realized the more one-on-one attention I devoted to them, the more often they would clal with questions and would also be patient while I figured out the problem. After a while, when I started mailing hand written thank you letters, some would call to 'see how things were going'. It was a monumental moment in my customer service career.

  4. Hey Matt,

    I recently had an experience with Fantastic Sam's that actually made me loyal. For the most part, nobody gives a sh@#@ where you get your haircut (that is if you are a guy). So spending absurd amounts of money to do the simple cut for my hair has never made sense. I've been going to Fantastic Sam's in my city for a while, but the other day I decided to do a Foursquare check in and tweet that i”m the mayor of Fantastic Sam's. Then I get a Tweet and DM offering me a free gift certificate for my next cut. They even followed up with me to make sure that I received it. That more or less made me loyal to a brand that I honestly didn't think much of before.

  5. I had TMNT shoelace clips in 4th grade. Beat that.

    Here at work we really strive to nail customer service. We sell and rent pro audio gear. So we have a policy that many places don't – if your purchased items break within the manufacturer's warranty period, we'll drive out a replacement from our rental inventory. It's saved a client's show on a number of occasions. In fact, our customer service and reputation is such that we pretty much only get new clients via word of mouth – no advertising. Just recently talked these guys into a Facebook fan page, still working on twitter…

    The hand written note is huge though. We've done that a couple of times for massive sales, but it would probably be really effective if we did it more.

  6. Matt,

    The Foiled Cupcakes example is a good one. I recently received a hand-written thank you note from the shop I purchased my wedding gown from. While I did spend a lot of money with them, I was thrilled when the card came in the mail (it's hanging on my refrigerator now). It's those little things that make me feel appreciated as a customer and will make me refer that particular dress shop to anyone else I know who is looking for a wedding gown.

    On the reverse, when I was shopping for my gown, there was one shop that made me feel less than special (I guess the $1,000 budget constraint was too much for them). Needless to say, I never stepped foot back in that shop. In fact, I asked another shop if they could order the dress I had tried on there if I decided that was the one I wanted. It really goes to show that how you treat people is HUGE. Hopefully businesses pay attention to posts like this one!

  7. Hey Matt,

    I was a fan of Strawberry Shortcake, but actually still have my blanket :)! Great article today! It is so true and plus ones can be used in any profession. I am a dietitian and work for a large hospital and still take the time to follow-up with all my clients through email or phone and make personalized nutrition goal sheets for them with each of their names. It is amazing how just using someone's name makes them feel special!

  8. Matt – this post comes at a perfect time … I was just thinking about this on my way home from work today!

    I normally pass by the same salad/juice bar almost every other day and pick up mine and Mr. C's “usual” order ..

    After a short while, the staff have all grown to know me, connect and look forward to seeing me at the usual time and having that pleasant albeit brief exchange … when I was out of town for 2 weeks, they noticed and missed me and when I got back they noticed my hair looked different and complimented me! When Mr. C picks up our order instead; they acknowledge him too and know my special requests and ask him to pass “hello's” on to me :-)

    How can I not be a loyal customer … not only are their products top notch but also their customer service deserves gold stars, they really make the effort to reach out and know their customers as 'people' and in turn I too look forward to those moments at the end of a long day … something very rare out here in Dubai at least!

  9. There's something about taking things off the phone, off the internet, that really adds a lot to the overall customer service experience. Like Foiled Cupcakes did with the handwritten note, that LITTLE touch goes a long, long way.

  10. Well damn, it sounds like I need to become the mayor of my local Supercuts! In all seriousness, that's awesome, and shows that even the more 'standard' companies that we don't really think of as high-quality providers are tapping into the value of customer service via a channel like FourSquare (which I think has massive potential that companies have yet to tap into).

    • Girl, don’t let fame screw you up, okay? People like you because you are not like the famuos arrogant guys, don’t change. It’s hard, but don’t change.You actually have a wonderful voice, I don’t really know how angels sing, but I’m sure you must be pretty close.God Bless you, if you believe him.

  11. Oh dude, so had those, and just about every other TMNT accessory you can think of. I don't use the word 'obsessed' lightly, but I was more than obsessed.

    Word of mouth is where the money's at – 100% of the business I've gathered with has been word of mouth – I'd be thrilled (as any business owner would) if I never have to spend a dime on advertising or promoting. Do good work, be good to your customers, and let them speak on your behalf…

  12. All business owners know the value of customer service (right)? But so many are really dropping the ball – while others really 'get it' and know that customer service is at the forefront of today's economy, even before price. I want to be treated as a valued customer – and I'm willing to pay a little extra for that overall buying 'experience'.

  13. You're so right. One of my favorite blogs, The Consumerist, actually tracks “Above and Beyond” as a category (…), noting that this kind of customer service SHOULDN'T be noteworthy but often is.

    My story: a couple years ago I was buying new windows for my old house – an expensive proposition, so I did a ton a research. I eventually narrowed it down to three companies and had all three come over to do measurements and give estimates. One never contacted me after leaving an expensive estimate. The second left me a non-committal voicemail a week later. But the third sent me a handwritten note two days after the estimate, from the owner of the company (I hadn't even realized he was the one who had come to my house and done the estimate), and followed up with a call to ask what they could do to earn my business. When he had been at my house, I had showed him a newer window installed by a previous owner and had mentioned that the design was fine, but it was annoying that you had to jiggle the lock to make it latch. The guy pulled out a screw driver and rebalanced the latch- one he hadn't installed and had no reason to fix – and said it was nothing. Needless to say, they got the business, and actually sent me another hand-written note after installation to make sure I was happy. When I have the money to replace more windows, I'll certainly go with them again.

  14. Haha well you girls had your Strawberry Shortcake and Polly Pocket, I was rockin' out TMNT. You hit the nail on the head with the 'name' comment – something so simple as using someone's name can mean so (so) much. I've landed several free cups of coffee at Starbucks simply by calling the barista by name (because, you know, they are people too). Often we as consumers think we're better than those 'serving us' – and the same can be said for companies who are up on a pedestal and don't appreciate the value of each customer. It works both ways. Thanks for the comment Brooke!

  15. Matt, I want to distribute this post company-wide where I work! I feel a lot of people just don't GET IT. You are 100% right: when you treat a customer as a person with feelings and challenges and a need to feel valued, you get so much farther. I was a client relations specialist for three years, and that is probably the number one lesson I learned — and USED!

    Business is business and personal is personal, but those lines are blurring. When you have a real, personal relationship with a customer (or a business, from the customer standpoint), you are creating loyalty. Absolutely.

  16. This is a great example of why I do what I do for a living. I work for a Social Marketing Company who engages Fortune 500/1000 brands with their customers on Facebook and Twitter. I do the actual managing of their accounts, and it makes a difference! Thanking a customer for sharing a great experience, correcting a poor experience, offering exclusive deals, and really cherishing the customer and letting them know that through avenues where they are actively participating is how I go above and beyond for my clients. :)

  17. First of all, I want to just share that I went through a phase where I was obsessed with Star Wars and had a themed comforter and bed sheets set. Ok, that's that. Second, I worked in retail for a good 3 years and customer service is everything. In any kind of business, really, it's the foundation. When you have a shop and you deal with brands or designers, building a relationship with them sets the tone for the type of business you will be able to conduct in the future. The hand written note tha you received is impressive because it is rare. But just think, if every shop or service provider offered such personalized service, would it even mean anything to us anymore?

  18. This is why I love the local neighborhood coffee shop over Starbucks – there's something about that vibe and atmosphere where everyone knows your name (channeling my inner 'Cheers' here). It's that level of service and appreciation that gets people, myself included, coming back again and again…The real challenge is for those larger businesses to simulate and/or create that ' family' atmosphere…

  19. Yes, LOVE that Consumerist does that – thanks for pointing that out and sharing it here – totally slipped my mind when I was writing this!

    Great story here as well that illustrates 1) their willingness to go above and beyond to earn your business and 2) their honesty and transparency. Clearly they were not out to screw you. A little bit of 'free' service can and does often push people over the edge who are on the fence about who to go with – and above all – even something that small is memorable and leave a lasting impression (as it clearly did with you).

    Thanks for the comment AND thank you again for coming out this weekend – it was great to meet you at our workshop! Have a great week!

  20. Do it! Distribute this to everyone on your team – it'll give them a good laugh about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and it'll reinforce this idea, which should be a no-brainer but it OFTEN forgotten. Businesses need to focus on treating their customers as humans, and vice versa – it's important and really goes a long way when we treat the people we're buying from with that same respect. The line between personal and business needs to be respected, but it is VERY much blurred in this day and age…

  21. This comment stream is a great example. Matt is responding to most everyone's comments here individually setting himself apart from the rest. That's important because it takes time and is memorable. There are millions of blogs out there but personal interaction is where it's at.

    Great post and good comment discussion. I've just subscribed to your RSS.



  22. Hey Lauren – Social Media and community management IS a full time job – I just had a meeting with a company who is potentially interested in bringing me on for a similar role and that was one of the things I hit home again and again, that it really is a full time commitment and it requires you to be engaged and present – doing those “above and beyond” things day in and day out that make you memorable and have your company stand out amongst all of the “noise” out there – and there is a lot of noise to cut through, eh?

    PS – You are in San Fran, right? We should chat sometime (very) soon. The fiance and I are coming out your way (San Fran, Napa/Sonoma, and then stopping off in Vegas on the way back) for our honeymoon – I'm sure you have some 'must see/do' things in San Fran, no? Give me a shout!

  23. Lindsey – I am keeping a tally of 'things that make you awesome' – Next to our mutual love for NIN, the Star Wars bedding only makes you that much cooler.

    I spent 5 years in retail and, to be honest, hated it. Because as much as customer service was important to me, the companies I worked for were more interested in purely pushing the sale, pushing additional add-on sales, memberships, etc. I hated that “push” method when there wasn't really any pull from the customers. However, we're very much seeing a dramatic shift away from that old school retail model to one that is much more focused on relationship building.

  24. Thanks Jessica. It has always been my philosophy to stay very active in the comments section – love or hate my posts, the real value here is and always has been in the follow up conversations in the comments, on Twitter, offline, whatever. It's all about building a community (in my mind).

    I very much appreciate the kudos and thank YOU for subscribing – looking forward to chatting more in the future!

  25. I admit, I've long since outgrown this star wars thing, but alas, that was me at one point.

    I hope that the model of relationship building will be more successful but the trouble in traditional retail venues, like shopping centers and malls, is training the staff to adhere to a certain policy of customer service.

  26. Disclosure: I tend to get philosophical.

    I get your point, but why just the plus 1? Why not plus infinite?
    +1 is finite. once you've gotten ahead of everyone else, then you're done. maybe the competition will spur progress into infinite, but theoretically, it is still possible that everyone else stops trying and you're the winner, and then all progress stops.
    In theory, perfect and infinite progress would be when you compete against yourself, because theoretically, there is no end to +1'ing yourself.

  27. There is no end to plus 1, you're right, it's all about infinitely going “plus 1″ for your clients and customers. I like the way you think – I tend to get pretty philosophical myself. Thanks for the comment!

  28. Yeah, I suppose I grew out of my TMNT obsession, but it's still there in spirit.

    As for retailers, you're right – it's hard to break that 'mold' when you're given strict policies to follow and essentially told how you must behave – It's important to have guidelines and standards, but often those guidelines forget that, first and foremost, you have to be a human being and you have to look beyond simply being an extension of a 'brand'…

  29. I worked for one of the largest banks in the US for a bit over 3 years, and the one thing I really noticed was how much better my day was if I was able to see some of my “regular” customers, and have conversations with them. The branch I worked in was comparatively small for our town, but I knew/know probably close to 300-400 people by first name, on sight. It would really make a difference to the customers if I was able to greet them by name when they walked in the door, ask about their lives, and give them the services they needed.
    Even though the bank had sales goals for us to meet, I *never* enjoyed having to “push” something on the customers. If I thought it was something they could use, or that it was an option that might help them, or even just to let them know it was an option for them to use, I would share the information…. Sometimes having developed that personal relationship with them actually helped “complete the sale”, because they often knew that I wouldn't recommend something to them if I didn't think it would help them.
    Now that I'm not there, I sometimes go into the branch and if the customers who remember me are there, they say “Hey! How've you been? Miss you!” …. And I miss them a little bit too. Making those little connections is what life is all about, I think.

  30. Oh man, you're SPOT ON! I'm ALWAYS working. Seriously. But I love it. It's all about the instant gratification that tides you over while you go on reaching your ultimate goals. And, yes, there is quite a bit of noise to cut through. You get good at it though :)

    I am in SF – let's definitely chat! I have lots of things that I'm sure you and “the fiance” would love! (Congrats by the way! WOOHOO!) It's a beautiful place – I'm sure you'll love it.

  31. Haha, her name is Lierin, I just figured that if I said “Lierin and I” like you knew her would be a little weird. Yes, I'll shoot you an email – we could use a travel guide or two.

  32. Completely agree with you here – and “pushing the sale” is much (MUCH) easier once you've built that rapport – trust is the essence of any relationship, business or otherwise. Thanks for the comment!

  33. Disclaimer: it's 8:30 am, which means I just woke up. ;-)

    Thanks for the mention! Great post, and great points. And I had a Rainbow Brite bedspread, FYI. :)

    I recently took a Marketing of Services class at Chicago Booth and the professor emphasized over and over again the importance of Physical Evidence (the forgotten “P” in marketing – or your “Plus-one”) as something that needs to constantly be refreshed. Yes, those “plus-one” moments are important, and they do make a difference. But as a customer becomes more loyal, they need to be re-impressed… all the time.

    I recently stayed at the Distrikt Hotel in NYC after a terrible experience at a blah blah blah chain. While disguised as a boutique hotel, this one is actually part of the Choice Hotels chain. I would have never guessed. Every last touch – from a welcome note addressed especially to me, a local brownie as a turndown treat, hailing a cab before I even checked out so that I wouldn't miss my flight (and of course, they figured out which flight I was on before I even checked in), and a NYT instead of a USA Today? Floored. Great example of those plus-one touches. Next time I go, I'm going to expect the same. And the time after that? I may get bored of it and need something new. Who knows.

    I'm pretty sure it's human nature to always want something new, better, unique – to make us feel a renewed sense of “I'm important to this company/person.”

    People know (because of great blog posts like this) that when they order Foiled Cupcakes, they're going to get a thank-you note in the mail. So what? Now that becomes passe. And as a team, we're always looking for inspiration to add another level of physical evidence (while still maintaining our brand values and staying profitable.)

    Oh, it's tough. So any suggestions are always welcome.

  34. Great point here Mari and I cite the comment above that states “plus one” is limiting – it should be “plus infinity” – plus one is great for now, but like you said, it will become the expectation, plus one raises the bar, so you have to go plus one over the plus one to exceed those expectations and go above and beyond. It's a never ending cycle – and for the businesses out there who don't see that, who become complacent and neglect the “plus one” in their approach are the ones who'll fall behind to the businesses like your own who get that the little touches go a LONG LONG way.

    Hope you had a great weekend Mari. Now run away before you get sucked in to a Gen Y state of mind, lol.