Many organizations talk about customer loyalty, and some dedicate substantial resources towards building that loyalty. These efforts can take many forms, from perks and special discounts to “membership” statuses achieved by doing various levels of business with the company. While these programs are great, one can’t help but wonder whether they really get to the root of loyalty. What is it that builds true loyalty?
I recently attended a conference featuring James Cain, an author who focuses on business loyalty. He presented an interesting perspective that had nothing to do with the programs I mentioned above. Loyalty centers around the issue of whether people can trust your brand at a deeper level, a level that goes beyond even your brand promise. That trust is much easier to gauge in today’s world of social media.
What Trust Means to Your Customers
Cain made it a point to discuss that there is a big difference between smaller, privately held companies and large corporate entities when it comes to building trust. Specifically, he described how smaller organizations are more nimble, and oftentimes are more in touch with their customers. In many cases, they’re communicating personally with their customers more often, either in person or via social media. The customer may even know the person behind the social media account. While smaller organizations may face certain limitations when it comes to resources available to build loyalty programs, they can use their size and personal touch to their advantage. Cain outlined four basic things to focus on:
- Competency – This is the baseline – does your company have the skills to actually do the job? This is an area where companies have to be very careful. Do you have the knowledge and ability to do what you say you are going to do? If you can’t deliver (or can’t deliver excellence), trust and loyalty will suffer.
- Character – Does your organization have values that match with what customers in a social world believe? In other words do you do the right thing and do your customers believe it? You need to make sure that these two match consistently, that you have defined the characteristics of your organization, and that you live to them. It may take some time to get completely clear on these.
- Consistency – Do you deliver reliably on an ongoing basis? This is an area where small businesses get themselves in trouble. They make many little changes over time that may or may not be perceived as good for the customer, and as a result, the customer’s consistent experience can be disrupted, offering them an opportunity to go elsewhere. To identify what value may exist by making a change, and to prepare your customers for it, get their input. Before making any change, ask your customers what they think, and how their experience may be enhanced with the change you’re considering.
- Capacity – Do you have the manpower, resources, inventory, and time to actually deliver what you promise? Many entrepreneurs can find themselves in trouble over the capacity issue. They get a bit too optimistic and can’t deliver what they promised.
As you look at your organization in 2018, examine your core values and make sure they are truly who you are, continue to build on your skillsets and capacity, and institute processes to ensure your values, culture, and consistency are front and center (and lived by your team) each day. With these things in place, you can experience a measurable improvement in customer satisfaction.