What We Learn from The Grateful Dead Calico and Fans For Life



The psychedelic rock band, The Grateful Dead, was formed amid the rise of the counter culture in 1965. Their unique and eclectic fusion of rock, folk, blues, reggae and country evoked a spiritual awakening in ordinary people. Legions of fans gravitated towards performances laced with space rock, psychedelic tones and live performances of long musical improvisation. A quick cult rose from the unexpected community and the Deadhead was born.

Deadheads or Dead Heads grew from devoted fans who religiously followed the Grateful Dead to as many shows or festivals as possible. The ever-changing playlist each night and the promise of a two set show with an encore kept people coming back for more. Deadheads wanted to hear the sweet sounds of their favorite songs and if they didn’t hear them one night, they would pack up and hear them the next night, regardless of location. A nomadic tribe of wandering Deadheads sold out performances each night as they patiently waited to be spiritually reborn through music. A make-shift community formed complete with solid friendships and a language infused with idioms and slang understood only by Deadheads. The peaceful cult even resorted to commerce by selling tie-dye t-shirts and veggie burritos to fund transportation to the next event. It was a phenomenal response created by average folks simply wanting a spiritual experience through blissful and transcendent music.

“Wiser” Deadheads rose to the occasion and with the support of the band, handed out flyers telling people to “cool out”. This gave way to the creation of the Minglewood Town Council, a group of fanatical Deadheads including the infamous Elisabeth van der Mei also known as “Calico” and later on as “Ruby”.

Calico was born in Holland and as a teenager experienced starvation and homelessness during World War II. The experience taught her to appreciate shreds of good fortune and always share with others. She was a keen learner and took great interest in world events. She was always willing to share her knowledge with others and listen intently to their opinions. Her open and willing spirit was welcome at Grateful Dead concerts where she was a renowned supporter of the band and eventual friend of Jerry Garcia.

Grateful Dead Personal Service

In 1983, Deadheads broke new ground by creating a system to acquire tickets through mail order. Steven Marcus was at the helm of the organization with Frankie Accardi and not surprisingly, Calico at his side. It was at this point Calico became Ruby, a softer and perhaps more subservient version of herself. She lived in service to the people, helping tens of thousands of fans. Her personal handwritten notes touched many including Harry M. Carpenter who remembers “She always sent me notes…and tickets. The greatest tickets! We corresponded many times. I’ve always cherished everything she sent”. Christine Smith Darge recalls “Ruby was always super nice and patient with me on the phone, many years ago, before caller ID, before the internet, before I realized she really didn’t have to be nice to an annoying kid from Jersey.” A surprised Leslie Edmonds remembers “Ruby brought tickets to me at my work one time. Forgot what I messed up on but she kindly drove over and met me in San Rafael…like a favor for a friend. I will pass that kindness on”.

Ruby Spirit of The Dead

Ruby’s gentle spirit was not only a presence in the ticket office, but at the performances, as well. She frequently came to concerts and helped fans who were unwell or promoted peace within the parking lots and campgrounds. Richard De Angelis recalls “Sweet person, she helped me out at a Kate Wolf Festival in Laytonville. Very kind and understanding of my problem that night. Much love…”. Ruby always reminded people they were a community that needed to work together and share possessions and mutual love.

Ruby sadly passed away this year on March 18, 2015 at the age of 79. There has been an outpouring of love from devoted Deadheads through social media, all recalling stories of this phenomenal women who shared great wisdom and care towards complete strangers. Strings of comments describe a sweet, magical, kind person who offered time, patience and unrequired extra effort. “She was committed to communicating with us Deadheads no matter how much effort it took”, writes Francesca Rago, “Thank you, Ruby, for your wonderful gifts to our planet”.

Ruby’s Magic

Ruby appeared to possess a magical formula for drawing people in and keeping them engaged. She kept tens of thousands of people coming back for Grateful Dead tickets with little to no experience and a void of social media to aid her cause. She single-handedly represented the image of an entire legendary band by simply walking through crowds of people at a concert and offering nothing more than a peaceful smile.

In a modern world of rewards programs, flashy advertising, free samples and quantity over quality, companies forget the simple things that keep customers coming back. A personal note, sincere conversation and going the “extra mile” will win over customers who crave to be a person in a world of anonymity. Calico encompassed all of those qualities in an almost motherly fashion that encouraged people to return not only to hear great music, but lay eyes upon a caregiver who was willing to sacrifice her time for loyal and devoted customers. KhatAroo Baker simplifies it by saying “The day we lose a cherished friend is like no other. RIP, Ruby. Thanks for making this world a better place”.

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When Did Customers Become Commodities?


Customer service is becoming increasingly more important than product and pricing. Organizations realize that they need customer loyalty for repeat business and the acquisition of new clientele. Harris Interactive Research indicates it is 6-7 times more expensive to bring in a new customer and 86% of people will pay more for better service. Companies are keenly aware of these statistics and yet they continue to focus on acquiring new customers rather than fostering relationships with existing ones. It is a lack of organization, technology and the ignorance of tried and true methods that keep loyal customers at a distance and companies struggling to keep them interested. Companies should focus on a customer for life strategy.

Customer Lifetime Value (CLV)

A major flaw of many companies is their ignorance to the Customer Lifetime Value or CLV. CLV metrics are useful tools for acquiring and retaining loyal customers. These people ultimately balance the costs of acquisition, retention and future spending. CLV metrics accurately determine customers who represent the highest future value and therefore, the model for future marketing efforts. Transactional metrics aid in further defining average individual transactions and purchases. Companies recognize the importance of using CLV metrics in their planning and yet few actually accomplish this task. According to Forbes Insights and Sitecore, currently only 58% use CLV, 18% plan to use it and a staggering 24% have no plans to use it or they simply don’t know. These tools are highly underutilized and as a result, few businesses have insight into their customer return rate and customers who generate the most value. Businesses are left with no marketing direction and the focus remains on acquiring new customers.

Data Failure and Company Disorganization

Perhaps a major reason why CLV metrics are never utilized is a direct result of company disorganization. Attracting and keeping customers is a focus for the whole organization, not just for marketing or consumer-facing departments. The problem lies in a total miscommunication among high level executives. It appears the CEO is usually informed of strategies regarding customer loyalty planning, however the Chief Information Officers (CIOs) and the Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) are left in the dark. Forbes Insights and Sitecore reveal that only 27% of companies feel they are fully integrated, 58% feel partially integrated and 11% feel not integrated at all. The elimination of stakeholders creates confusion and disorganization within the company and results in a loss of customer retention strategies.

It is clearly not surprising that if human ignorance and disorganization is at the heart of shabby customer loyalty, the technology they use will fail, as well. The general goal is to gain a customer centric viewpoint by using various technologies. This seems like such a simple task and yet the overuse and inappropriate implementation of technology is staggering. Data gathering systems are fragmented and disorganized. There are far too many different means to acquire data and nowhere to systematically organize and store the data once it is collected. Forbes Insights and Sitecore claims that some organizations are using 36 different systems, while others are using up to 100. Companies’ complaints include duplicate data, loss of data or siloed data. It is a train wreck of information heralded by mismanaged and outdated technology.

The improper use of technology and data storage lends to the idea that customer personalization is impossible. And yet, businesses try to skip the aforementioned steps and go straight to creating a personal experience for each customer. This is an impossible feat with a lack of metrics, communication and badly used technology. Those three elements must be running smoothly before a company can implement a personal touch. However, this should be the number one goal of customer loyalty. Personalization is everything. Friendly call center representatives, customer emails and positive in store experiences are the face of a successful company who keeps loyal customers coming back for more. Happy and satisfied customers are the only reflection a business needs to know they are succeeding.

The Solution

The solutions to turning ideal customer service into a reality are simple. Practice and preach Customer Lifetime Value metrics every day. Use CLV to hone in on loyal customers who in turn will reduce the cost of acquiring new customers, retaining existing customers and future spending. The metrics reveal a “type” of customer with specific characteristics that can be the basis of a marketing strategy. Instead of shooting in the dark trying to appeal to everyone, acquire a specific personality that will enjoy your approach and frequently invest in your business.

The Implementation

While implementing CLV metrics into your company’s planning, be sure that all members of the company are informed of such changes. Reporting only to CEOs and then skipping your team often results in mass confusion and frustration. According to Forbes Insights and Sitecore, when CIOs or CMOs are involved in customer loyalty planning, integration between teams rises significantly. Clear communication within all levels of a company generates improved company performance.


A team that works cohesively can avoid the data catastrophe when departments are implementing new technologies and not informing anyone of the changes. The goal should be to have a central database collecting data with only a few methods of acquisition picked carefully by a team of employees from all levels in the company. The unit must be uniform, consistent and easily interpreted.

Cohesive data collection methods reveal consistent and accurate results which then allow companies to focus on personalizing customer service. If loyal customers are well established, it is easy to pinpoint the details necessary for producing personalized emails, store coupons and loyalty cards. The customer is already in favor of the store and will be impressed with the attention to making their shopping experience pleasant and genuine.


In a world where anonymity reigns supreme, people are desperate for human contact and validation. Life behind a computer screen is lonely and human interaction is in high demand. People want to be acknowledged and treated like they matter. Using CLV metrics, collaboration and communication throughout the company, a centralized database and customer specific messaging will keep customers coming back for more and turn a one time buyer, into a customer for life.


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A Whole Town in Colorado Improves Its Customer Service


Many in Steamboat Springs, a resort town in Colorado believed that they had a friendly town. When customers were asked: “How likely is it that you would recommend us to a friend or colleague?” The results were at 70%. Clearly, many guests were unhappy with their customer experience.

When looking deeper into the results, there seemed to be negative responses about the service at local businesses. Because Colorado is so competitive for tourist revenue, Steamboat Springs realized they needed to differentiate themselves.

Tom Kern, chief executive of the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association, along with business owners, decided to provide the entire town customer service training. A consultant Ed Eppley, was hired to help businesses better connect with customers.

  • Engage customers in conversations, to learn about their needs and likes, then suggest services to fit their needs based on what was learned
  • Provide personal and engaging service
  • Connect with customers in a friendly manner which is less like work
  • Grumpy behavior can be changed (Disney may disagree, since they ask all potential employees: Are you friendly?)
  • Walk a lost guest to a location, instead of just pointing

These small gestures can have huge effects in exceeding customer expectations. What these businesses are learning is that a positive customer experience is more than a tag line.

Mr. Eppley, the consultant taught a simple but effective method to establish commonality with customers. The system is based on 5 questions.

  • Where are you from?
  • What do you do?
  • Where did you go to school?
  • Where do you travel?
  • What are your hobbies?

The goal is to improve the customer’s experience. We want customers to be loyal and refer their friends. Simply we want a onetime customer to become a customer for life.

Having the right conversation can build a warm customer experience. A car salesperson can discuss the merits and features of the vehicle and also connect on a personal level talking about fishing or golf. Customers should like the person that is selling them stuff.

One of the biggest obstacles, implementing this program was convincing businesses that they needed the training. Although this is common sense, change is hard.

The 5 questions above go a long way to establish personal relationships. Virtually any business can train their team to be more effective with this simple method.

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There is only 1 Kind of Customer Success; Not 5

customer success

That one kind of success is converting that one time buyer into a customer for life. Everything else is a sideshow to your ultimate goal.

Customer success references ARE just that, buzzwords. Customer success has no clear definition as to end-results. At best customer success is an ideal.

  1. Customer success as a business model
  2. Customer success as a company-wide priority
  3. Customer success as an organization
  4. Customer success as a profession
  5. Customer success as a technology

Customer success should be defined by what your company does to acquire and retain its customers.

With the “customer for life” model you can always measure your results.

  1. What is your customer experience rating (CER) and how can we make that experience better
  2. How many new customers did we earn today, this quarter, this year
  3. What percent of customers are retained over 1, 2, 3, 5 and 10 years
  4. How much did we earn and by how much did we increase profits through customer loyalty and customer evangelism

Become a Customer For Life Company.

The 5 Kinds of Customer Success

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Brands for All

Published on April 14, 2014 in Branding

Most companies know that a positive brand image is important. Branding is also crucial for professional athletes, business professionals and entertainers.

In this brief video Patti Smith the artist and performer talks about branding. Her insights apply to virtually any profession.

  • Build a good name
  • Your name is its own currency
  • Do not compromise
  • Do good work
  • Protect your work
  • Make the right choices

This is a pioneering time. There is no other time like right now, continues Smith. Our time is unique because technology is democratizing self-expression. Everyone

has access they never had before.

What is your brand? Are you fulfilling your potential?


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