In my previous blog I discussed true customer loyalty. In this blog I will discuss what are the differences between emotionally attached and other types of loyal customers. For more info on how to develop emotional attachment, read my blog on How to get your customers to love your brand.
Emotions vs Emotional Attachment
First, lets get one thing straight, both of these are not the same! Emotions are temporary states of mind, and can change very quickly. It is not always true that a positive emotion will lead to a satisfied customer. In fact, you can have negative emotions (fear, anxiety, etc) leading to positive experiences. For instance riding on a roller coaster may make some people scared, however the outcome is a positive experience. At this point in time, it is difficult for us to which emotions will lead to a loyal customer. However, we can say that emotions that have a positive impact on customer experience will lead to customer loyalty.
Emotional attachment on the other hand is something is takes time to develop. It is a consequence of all the different interactions, and experiences, that a customer has with a brand or a firm. Emotional attachment, hence, is a more permanent state of mind, and is difficult to change. Although, having said this, it does not mean that an emotionally attached customer will not defect. That can happen, if the company takes advantage of the customer (e.g. provide bad service, over charge for products, etc.)
What makes customer attitudinally loyal?
This stage of the loyalty comes after several interactions with the firm or brand. Once the customer interacts with the brand, he/she will start to develop a positive image of that brand. This will lead to the customer having a preference for the brand. In the behavioral loyalty phase, the customer was indifferent. He/she would go where ever the cheaper deal, or readily available produce was sold. However, an attitudinally loyal customer is one that likes the brand. He/she will prefer this brand over others, and will try to get this brand as a first preference.
From an equity perspective, these customers are more profitable for the firm than behaviorally loyal ones. First, they will tend to spend more with the firm. On average these customers spend between 60-80% of their wallet share with the ‘preferred’ brand. Second, they will try to purchase a wider range of products and services from the same firm. For example, an airlines customer may also do the hotel booking from the same site. Third, these customers are generally cheaper to serve. They know the company or brand, they know the procedures of your firm, and hence can make a purchase decision more quickly, without much help from the company. Finally, these customer do marketing for you, by recommending it to others. Hence, you get free marketing, which also happens to be a more reliable source for customers. More customers trust their friends and family than any other form of advertising.
What takes customers to the next level, i.e. emotional attachment?
While some of the loyal customers move up to the attitudinal loyalty phase, others do not. Similarly, out of those customers who become attitudinally loyal, some customers move up to the emotional attached phase, others do not. So what is it that takes some of the customers into the emotional attached phase, while others remain in only attitudinally loyal? For starters, emotionally attached customers feel that they get an excellent service, or the quality of the products is excellent. These customers believe that the level of quality provided by this brand is so good that no other company can compare. Attitudinally loyal think that quality is good, but not better than others. Attitudinally loyal customers may be loyal to several brands or companies. However, emotionally loyal customers stick to one brand or one firm and the one they love the most for a particular class of products or services. These customers also believe that they have had ‘memorable’ experiences with a firm, whereas loyal customers in other categories don’t recall any memorable experiences. Another interesting fact is that these customers also believe that there have been very few bad experiences. If they’ve had bad experiences, they have been compensated with excellent service recovery. In contrast, attitudinally loyal customers feel they’ve had more bad experiences, and these have not been compensated with timely, or appropriate service recovery. Finally, another very important finding in my research was that emotionally loyal customers do not become emotionally attached right away. In fact it takes a certain period of time for this to take place. So, for us to expect these customers to become emotionally attached in the first encounter, this is not going to happen. The time period varies, but is about 3 to 5 years for most firms and brands.
From a financial perspective, these customers are the most profitable for a firm. First, these customers spend almost all of their wallet’s share with their preferred brand. My research shows, this is between 80-100%, which is significantly more than the other loyalty categories. Second, these customers purchase a much larger selection of products and services from the firm. So in addition to hotels, maybe they will go for the rent a car, and even book some sigh-seeing tours etc, with the airlines. Emotionally attached customers are usually the least costly to serve. Since they know the ins and outs of a company, the cost to serve these customers is very low. Often these customers refer to the preferred company as ‘my’ company, or ‘my’ brand! These customers take ownership of a firm. Hence, these customers are even wiling to forgive some bad experiences. Moreover, emotionally attached customers do more word of mouth marketing than any other type of customer. In fact, these customers will go out of their way to mention their favorite brand. Finally, when asked if emotionally attached customers would pay more money to the same service / produce, the answer was always yes. However, these customers would only pay a little extra, and not a considerably more amount of money. While attitudinally loyal customers will switch on a lower price, emotionally loyal customers would rather pay a slightly higher price to get that same great service.
In conclusion, I would like to add that interestingly, we can measure which customers belong to the different categories.
Dr Osman Khan is one of the world’s leading experts in Customer Loyalty and Customer Experience Management.