We profiled the “Starwood Lurker” in our book as an example of a customer evangelism strategy. William Sanders is Starwood’s “Lurker” whose full time job is to patrol Internet discussion boards on travel and assist Starwood Preferred Guest members with issues about their stays or the points program. The Lurker is a Starwood employee and keeps an eye for discussions about sister properties Sheraton, Westin, Four Points, and W hotels.
One of the forums he monitors is FlyerTalk; since November 2000, Sanders has posted nearly 5,000 times there. He has become a popular and iconic member of the community. The people there say he’s consistently helpful, responsive, and sometimes funny. His revered status was more evident with a recent series of posts on the FlyerTalk forum under the topic, “Why I stay with Starwood.”
A customer named Christian explains his Starwood loyalty: “The reason [is] William. If he wasn’t here, I would move on… I only continue to stay with Starwood because of the great customer service William continues to offer.”
Another poster said: “(William) is truly one of the great things about Starwood. So many large corporations either dance around questions you ask, and you never get a good response. William does due diligence and finds the correct answer and responds professionally and without sugar-coating – and if he can remedy the situation, it’s done, or forwarded to someone who is empowered to do so. He is one of two reasons I’ve switched 100% of my business to Starwood.”
Yet another post said it all: “As long as Starwood cares about its guests, that shows me that they care (real or imagined). And this, my friends, is what gives them the edge.”
Interacting with customers at a personal level is a fundamental customer evangelism principle. People are more loyal to people, than they are inanimate brands. Even large consumers companies, like Starwood and Southwest Airlines, demonstrate that a bit of goodwill towards customers goes a long way.