[Originally published in Forbes.com. The author, Micah Solomon, is an author, consultant, influencer, keynote speaker, and trainer in customer service, customer experience, customer service culture, and hospitality. (Here are three ways to reach Micah: email, chat, web).
You’d hardly know it, with the reflexive hand-wringing that many businesses engage in today, but customers want to be loyal. They want something to hold onto–and if you play your cards right, that something could be you.
There are two challenges in making this inclination toward loyalty work out, however.
First off: A customer’s inclination to be loyal isn’t sufficient to overcome poor customer service, at least not repeatedlypoor customer service, though loyal customers are likely to cut you slack once or twice, or a spectacularly mis-designed customer experience. And it’s not sufficient to outweigh excessive inconvenience or an overly-large price differential. (Richard Branson once addressed this reality in a hilarious way: When British Airways offered a cutthroat discount on trans-Atlantic flights, Branson ran full-page advertising to the effect that Virgin always has the best interests of its customers in mind, and therefore would encourage them to take advantage of this ridiculously-cheap offer, even though it was with an enemy airline.) The customer inclination toward loyalty tends to be just strong enough, rather, to tilt a customer toward a pattern of repeat business if all things are approximately equal.
But this difficulty isn’t too terrible, is it? All any business can ask for is a fair shake in the marketplace, and by at least trying to be loyal, customers are giving your business precisely this fair shake. It’s on you to make sure that your prices are reasonable, your customer service is empathetic and efficient, and your customer experience is well-designed, convenient, and keeps the customer in mind at all times. And all of this, frankly, isn’t too much to ask.
The second problem is different, both more serious and more easily overcome. It’s that companies themselves fail to be loyal. They fail to recognize this powerful force–their customers’ desire to be loyal, to embrace it and demonstrate their own corporate loyalty in return. This can happen because of mis-designed sales incentives with their emphasis on bringing in new customers rather than tending to the old. It can occur due to a lazy mindset of taking customers for granted, of assuming and taking advantage of their loyalty. It can also come about due to the opposite of taking customers for granted, of assuming the worst of existing customers–that they’re unlikely to turn out to be loyal–and turning that assumption, through customer neglect, into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
A customer’s desire to be loyal has limitations. It has impurities. But it is still a powerful force, waiting for your company to embrace it. Once you do, you’re going to be able to watch the results flow–quickly and sustainably–to your bottom line.
Micah Solomon is an author, consultant, influencer, thought leader, keynote speaker, trainer, and subject matter expert (SME) in customer service, customer experience, customer service culture, hospitality, innovation. (email, chat, web).