Customer loyalty is of extreme importance to any firm. Many firms find that their ‘loyal’ customers often defect to competition. Yet we find that there are organisations and entities that have ‘customers’ who are loyal to the extent that they love them, will never leave them and will be willing to pay more money for the same product/service. Usually we find these types of ‘customers’ in sports, music, and charities. For example, when have we heard of fans giving up support for the Celtics or Manchester United, just because they didn’t win the trophy? Or when have you heard of people flocking to the music stores to buy a particular music album just because it’s on sale. People will only buy music they love, not because it offers more points, is cheaper, or just because it was conveniently available. Similarly, most people who donate money to a charity usually do so because they feel emotionally attached to it. Many people support Save the Children, or Greenpeace, because they feel strongly about what these organisations are doing.
The problem is that these entities don’t fall in the ‘normal’ category of business. Can we get customers to love our normal companies, and how do we do it? After spending nearly four and a half years doing research into this area, I’ve finally found some answers. The good news is that yes indeed you can get your customers to love you. These customers are loyal to an ‘extreme’ extent that they feel emotionally attached to your brand / company. They will never search for alternatives (unless if you don’t offer what they’re after). These customers will not only spread good word of mouth, but go out of their way to tell others. Moreover, these guys will be willing to pay more to receive the same service / product that you have to offer them! In fact, I’ve found that these customers are willing to spend up to 20% more money. Overall, they are between 20 to 50 percent more profitable than other types of ‘loyal’ customers.
Hence, the million dollar question is, how to get customer to love you? The following are some steps which may help in achieving this.
- Focus on customer delight. Nearly all the marketing texts you pick up, nearly all the marketing experts have one thing to say, marketing is about customer satisfaction. However, customer loyalty is about delight, and not satisfaction. Delight does not necessarily mean that you try to surprise the customer every time. Instead, often customers will be delighted because you consistently deliver a high quality service! One of the key differences between customers who just like, and those who love a firm is the level of satisfaction. Customers that love the brand are extremely satisfied whereas others were only satisfied.
- Appropriate service recovery. To err is human. However, the manner in which we handle a service failure will determine if our customers will hate, like or love us. The recovery has to be timely, and appropriate to the level of mistake that you’ve committed. Customers who said they like a company but not enough to love it, were of the view that service recovery was ‘too little, too late’. Others who loved the company said that the recovery was very quick and much better than what was expected.
- Don’t compromise on quality. No matter what your target audience, make sure that you offer the best quality in your product category. Customers who love their firm always have had a positive perception of the quality. These customers are of the view that the level of quality at this brand is better than competition. Even if you sell to the lowest segment in the market, you need to be better than the competition.
- Never forget the customer. Customer’s needs are constantly changing. Companies that are good at winning customer loyalty, always keep in touch with their customers. They know what their needs are, and how best to satisfy those needs. These companies can sense the changes in the customer requirements and then quickly act upon them to fulfill the needs.
- Focus on providing a unique service. Even if you’re selling products, you need to differentiate yourself. Best practice firms seem to focus on providing a unique service, instead of merely selling products. This is a factor that usually gives brands an edge over competition, and also makes customers feel good about the brand as a whole.
- Focus on the brand image. Interestingly building a positive image about your brand helps customers not only to be attracted to your firm, but also to feel good about the brand. A positive brand image is highly crucial in the initial stages of loyalty development.
- Know which customers are likely to progress to the love phase of loyalty. These customers need to be nurtured, and made a part of your company. It is with the help of these customers, will you be able to build a wider base for loyal customers.
Finally, don’t expect results to happen overnight. My research indicates that for customers to love a company there is usually a specific time frame involved. This can vary between 30 to 50 transactions or visits. You need to work hard to build a system in your organization that can cultivate love among the customers. However, with time this hard work will pay off in terms of greater market share, improved levels of profits, increase in employee morale and a better brand image.
Dr Osman Khan is one of the world’s leading experts in Customer Loyalty and Customer Experience Management.