Are your customers loyal or lazy?

“I don’t know whether I’m loyal, or lazy,” tweeted a friend of mine last week as his eye doctor ran more than 30 minutes behind. He seemed as frustrated with himself for not finding another provider, as he was with his doctor for wasting his time. There may have been a patient emergency, of course, or an unforeseen situation with that caused the delay; yet, others with appointments were expected to endure without being alerted to the problem and given the option to reschedule. While this particular situation is most prevalent with professional appointments, we all know of similar situations that occur in our businesses and organizations.

Customer loyalty, like friendship, is built on mutual understanding and acceptance of one another. At a minimum, the relationship between the customer and the organization requires:

  • Honesty
  • Integrity
  • Consideration
  • Empathy
  • Respect
  • Humor (maybe not needed, but indeed helpful)

While the customer easily gives these qualities, organizations with which they purport to have a relationship often do not reciprocate. From an organization’s perspective, a customer relationship is all too often built only on revenue generated. Specifically, the value of that relationship is measured by the number of purchases made and the size of those purchases. When a customer recognizes that their loyalty is measured only by these factors, such as with supermarket loyalty programs, they become fickle about the relationship. Laziness creeps in and whoever has the best sale prices or is closest to home gains the customer’s favor. When this happens, the relationship becomes a commodity for the customer, as it is already for the organization.

Organizations need to think of customers more like friends, than as dollar signs to prevent customer laziness Put yourself in your customers’ shoes and ask yourself the same questions you might ask about your friendships, for example:

Do my customers:

  1. Feel like they’re “my only customer” whenever we get together?
  2. Talk about our relationship in a positive light with their other friends?
  3. Tell me when I’ve done something wrong and give me an opportunity to make it right?
  4. Share their lives and stories with me because they know I care about them and the relationship?
  5. Count on me to deliver whenever they’re in need?
  6. Desire to spend more time with me and take every opportunity to do so—wherever I may be?
  7. Show passion about our relationship (brand)?
  8. Believe that every action I take is in their best interests?
  9. Feel that they’re desired?
  10. See tangible and long-term value our relationship?

If you can truthfully answer yes to most of these questions, your customer relationships—and long-term customer loyalty—are in good shape. If not, you have some work to do.

Do keep in mind social media tools make it very easy to build and cultivate customer loyalty today. You can connect anywhere at any time and have a meaningful conversation with customers. There’s no excuse for not putting time and effort into building these relationships. Not doing so will make it easy for the customer to decide if he’s loyal, or just lazy.

Can you afford lazy customers?

Are you making promises you can’t keep?

I’m sure you’ve all read the news about the few bad apples at one leading consulting firm who have cost the jobs and pensions hundreds, if not thousands of people. Both the consulting firm
and its client have lost large numbers of customers, again, because of the actions of these few individuals.

To read some the press reports, we apparently should be surprised by the customer defections, but losing those customers isn’t unexpected is it? After all, a relationship with a customer is based on trust-trust that’s built on a series of promises that a company has kept. Break a big promise and you’re immediately history. Not unlike our consultant friends above, whose primary promise was to assure shareholders that their client was financially sound.

On the other hand, breaking a small promise usually doesn’t result in the immediate termination of a customer relationship. Rather, it takes breaking several small promises to erode the relationship to the point of no return. Why would anyone want to do business with a company that doesn’t keep it’s promises? As the television character Gomer Pyle says, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”

All it takes is a “wrong” word or inconsiderate action by one individual to start the ball rolling. How many customers have you lost due to broken promises brought upon by the actions of one or two individuals? Do you know? I would suggest you will not know if you’re breaking the small promises. These customers aren’t going to complain, they’re just going to gradually slip away to your competitors. You’ll never know what promises you’ve broken or how often you’ve broken them, so repairing the relationship will be difficult, if not impossible.

Fortunately,fixing this mess will be easier for you and your company than it will be those firms we mentioned earlier in this article. But, before we talk about how to “make things right”, let’s look at some of the biggest causes of broken promises:

  • External messages. What literal promises are you making in your advertising, marketing or customer service messages? Are you promising 24/7 service, or satisfaction guaranteed? Maybe your promises are more subjective, like one insurance company’s “Like a good neighbor…” tagline. Are you fulfilling these promises? Can you fulfill these promises?Next, look at how your messages can be perceived by your target audiences or the public at large. Can an implied promise be read into your message that would lead someone to believe that you’re not keeping your promises? This can be especially true if your promise results from the ambiguity of a great tagline that is so subjective there’s little chance you’ll be able to fulfill everyone’s expectations.
  • Actions of staff. More often than not, the reason for broken promises has more to do with the actions of people, rather than the message presented. In the case of the previously mentioned insurance company’s “good neighbor” tagline, it’s the subjective interpretation of “good neighbor” by the agent and the claims staff that play a large role in determining if the promise is kept…or not.Remember, neither messages nor taglines-implied nor literal-break promises. People break promises. Make sure your staff understands how their actions affect the fulfillment of your company’s promises.
  • Misunderstanding customer NVEs. As always, understanding the Needs, Values and Expectations (NVEs) of your prospects and customers is very important. In this case, however, values and expectations are paramount. A business is not built solely on the products and services that it sells to meet the tangible needs of customers. It is perhaps more important that the company demonstrates value (and values) and delivers on expectations with each and every action.

Successful businesses deliver on promises each and every day and have the loyal customers to prove it. Those who break promises regularly-intentional or not-may find themselves waging a constant battle for new customers. It’s easy to know which of these businesses you’d rather be, the more important question is which business you are now.

Supermarket loyalty?

It strikes me odd so many supermarkets have loyalty cards. First of all, nearly every supermarket offers the programs with price-off incentives. In other words, have the card, get a special price. Where’s the loyalty in that? Many people (including those in my immediate family) have cards to all the local supermarkets and take advantage of the special pricing on key merchandise at all of the stores. Again, where’s the loyalty?

I know that some people are afraid to join the programs for fear of “Big Brother” tracking purchase patterns and products. The fact is, most supermarkets do little with the data collected other than, well, collect points. Worst of all, you can’t usually do anything with the point that you’ve collected and often you don’t know how many points are in your piggy bank.

So, here’s a supposed loyalty program that accumulates points; does little with them to build an individualized relationship; gives you (and everyone else who holds the card) discounts on merchandise they want to “sell” but not necessarily what you want to “buy”, and; provides no incentive to shop only at this supermarket.

That doesn’t sound much like “loyalty” to me.