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“We are encouraging our clients to fly Southwest Airlines. We are buying more stock…and we stand ready to do anything else to help. Count on our continuing support.”
--Southwest Airlines customer Ann McGee-Cooper, in an October 2001 letter to Southwest President Colleen Barrett

You are an evangelist.

You tell others what movie to see, which computer to purchase, what restaurant to visit, which dentist you prefer, which cell phone to buy, which books to read, which clubs to join. Your recommendations are sincere. Sometimes passionate.

Perhaps you did not realize that you are an evangelist--a bringer of glad tidings--but your sphere of influence does. It is made up of friends, family, colleagues and professional communities.

As our opening quote illustrates, Ann McGee-Cooper is a Southwest Airlines customer who stands by a company she loves. After the 9/11 attacks, which crippled and jeopardized airlines for months, McGee-Cooper wrote the company, informing it that she was persuading clients, friends and family members to fly Southwest Airlines.

She was purchasing tickets on their behalf. She bought the company's stock. Perhaps most tellingly, she included a $500 check with her letter, saying that the airline needed the money “more than I do.”

She is more than a loyal customer; she is a customer evangelist.

A loyal customer is often defined as one who buys from you on a regular basis. If you're an airline, loyal customers are usually defined as those who accumulate the most frequent flyer miles. If you are a grocery store, flower or sandwich shop, perhaps your loyal customers are those who live within walking or easy driving distance. Their loyalty to you may be driven by convenience or low prices. In effect, they are repeat customers, not necessarily loyal customers.

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Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba are the authors of Creating Customer Evangelists: How Loyal Customers Become a Volunteer Sales Force.