Best Ways To Increase Brand Loyalty
Today’s topic is a little more abstract than some of my past posts. What is Brand Loyalty? Every business owner knows that it wants it from its customers, but how often do they go about creating and nurturing it? It is only through good judgment calls, exceptional customer service, powerful brand identity, and understanding the intangible elements that it can be achieved. I have spent my career in many facets of customer service, in both employee and management positions. With much of this time spent in the service industry, I have seen firsthand how to build loyalty, as well as what destroys it. There is an immediacy that is crucial to nurturing loyalty and brand affection.
The Power of a Customers Voice Can Make Or Break You.
We all should realize that word of mouth is the most valuable marketing tool. These heart-to-heart recommendations have moved beyond just the realm of those we know when we take into account sites such as Yelp and Urbanspoon. As these allow each customer the opportunity to share their story and influence people outside of their social circle.
A customer’s relationship with a brand is more temperamental than many business owners want to believe. All it takes is one poor, uncaring experience to turn a lifetime customer into a brand nemesis. You see, the more a customer cares and is loyal to a brand, the more emotionally invested they are. What happens when we are emotionally invested, we grow more sensitive to actions.
Think about it. If you go into an unfamiliar coffee shop and find the service rude or the product sub-par. You most likely will simply not return. If someone mentions the place, you may share your poor experience but otherwise, you will be pretty apathetic unless the experience was truly horrid. But let’s say you go into your favorite coffee shop, the one you have promoted by word of mouth, and you have a poor experience there. Now you are emotionally invested, and the psychological reaction is the equivalent of a friend letting you down. Depending on the severity of the situation, this may lead you to go further in sharing your disappointment. Maybe, by telling all the friends you turned on to the place the story to dissuade them from going back. This negative experience may also lead you to write a scathing review on Yelp or TripAdvisor. I have seen these kinds of situations countless times. This can then be exacerbated further if the business does not handle this diplomatically and in a manner that moves to heal the relationship. For example, the former long-term customer posts a review on a site, and instead of being met with an apology and some sort of resolution the business gets defensive and nasty. This tends to lead to very ugly situations. But it never has to get this far.
In Customer Relations, think a little less about the bottom line and more about long-term growth.
The First Step is a Shift in Perspective.
We all know that there are people out there looking to complain or cause problems to get something for free. But those people are far and few between and being hardline about not “rewarding” complaining can lose your existing and potential customers. Some people will never be satisfied once they feel they were slighted no matter what you do, but again, few and far between. Generally, when someone complains, they are not looking for a freebie, but an apology, and the offer itself is a sign of care that can help reconcile a damaged relationship. It shows you value them.
Remember, your customers do not need you, you need them. No matter your industry there are other options for them. Way back when if you were the only shoemaker in the village, yes, you could get away with having poor customer relations. Times have changed, and for businesses to succeed they need to become consumer-centric and stop being egocentric.
Going Above And Beyond.
Once upon a time, I was the head server in a high-end restaurant. Where I cut my teeth and learned much about customer relations, as my income was directly related to it. I learned there that it is the little things that matter. Many times I would end up closing and getting the late tables. Once the last entree was cooked the salad/dessert chef left, and many times the table would want to order dessert. Other servers would say that the dessert person was gone and they could not order dessert. You could see that this always left a bad taste in the customer’s mouths. Being more proactive and seeking to satisfy all of my guests I would go to the back, make the dessert, and actually decorate it very nicely. I had the time to get creative and hey, presentation is everything. Many times the table would send artistic compliments to the dessert chef, I then got to tell them that I made it, as the dessert chef left a while ago. This created a win-win all around. They were even happier because they felt valued and knew that I cared, and I was rewarded with a higher tip, often praise to my manager, and over time more and more customers would return and request me and would wait for a table in my section to open up.
What spurred this article was an experience I had a few days ago. There is a local coffee shop that I frequent often as I just love their cold brew coffee. There are plenty of places to get cold-brew coffee in my area, and I could also just make it at home, but I preferred to go here because I am a huge fan. I stopped by to re-up on a new bottle of it, as I am quite addicted. I was met with a closed sign, 20 minutes before they were supposed to close, and saw the owner inside cleaning up. I usually would not knock on the door to inquire if a place was closed, but I have promoted this place and felt that their brand was my friend. So I knocked on the door and pointed at my bottle looking quite hopeful. The owner waved me away, in a kind way, but I left feeling disheartened.
I started thinking about what I would have done in that situation, as a business owner, to a regular customer. I would have taken the loss of a couple of dollars, opened up the door, and handed this loyal customer a free bottle of the coffee as a gesture of appreciation and to make them feel valued. The cost of this, $5, but the increased brand affection that this would provide is priceless. Because now that customer has a great story to share, letting their friends know that this place really values its customers, and will go out of their way to nurture that. This small investment could lead to those customers friends’ becoming lifetime clients. Maybe leading to a great story of customer appreciation on their Yelp or Facebook profile. Feeling valued is a large, yet intangible part of the business-consumer relationship.