How Lego and Nordstrom Create Customer Loyalty

I’ve never heard: “I’m loyal to Apple because of their [nonexistent] rewards program.” That’s because true customer loyalty has a limited relationship to customer loyalty programs, customer loyalty cards, customer loyalty rewards. Dubious at best.

Programs and rewards deserve consideration in your marketing mix, but it’s a novel, even cynical use of the English language for a consultant to tell a merchant that when a customer hands you a card to scan at the register it’s somehow akin to having created a loyal customer.

If this were true, how come not a single shopper I’ve ever surveyed who’s responded “I’m loyal to Nordstrom because of their rewards program.”

(Instead, loyal Nordstrom customers I survey say it’s because “I like my personal shopper”/”They delivered my shoes to me at home when I was on crutches”/”They take back my returns, no questions asked”/”I feel they have my back when something goes wrong.”)

Giant LEGO soldier guards LEGO retail store, Copenhagen © Micah Solomon
LEGO retail store greeter, Copenhagen © Micah Solomon [email protected]

So what does create a loyal customer?  Well, I think you can see a theme in my examples above: Sometimes, it takes having something go wrong–and handling it correctly, rising to the occasion in a way that cements your customer’s attachment to your brand.

What does “handled correctly” mean?  It means that your customer service problem-resolution process successfully serves the emotional needs of your customers.

This means, in part, teaching your staff to apologize and empathize immediately with the customer’s version of the story, sincerely and without hesitation or equivocation, saving the idea of ‘‘right and wrong’’ for another time.

This can feel uncomfortable, but it’s worth it:  A response like this can make a customer more loyal than if things hadn’t gone wrong in the first place.

I know this sounds a tad like pollyannish hooey, so let me give you an example, featuring one of the truly great brands of our time: the Danish company, LEGO.  Then I’ll explain the methodology behind the approach.

LEGO knows that every once in a while some of its plastic bricks will fail to make it into one of its kits, or that one of LEGO’s youthful customers will lose a few specific bricks and become frustrated partway through a challenging project. Where the problem originates doesn’t matter; either way, LEGO realizes that it’s a problem for the company. I became aware of this when my ten-year-old was three quarters of the way through a challenging LEGO kit modeled on Fallingwater, Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural masterpiece.

(LEGO kits are of an order of magnitude more intricate than what was available when I was a kid,when yellow, blue, and red were the primary — get it? — options available.)

‘‘Hey Dad, there are two bricks missing.’’ Forgetting that my daughter’s twice
as smart as me, I cluelessly asked, ‘‘Are you sure?’’ ‘‘Yes, Dad, I’m sure,’’ she responded impatiently, and, of course, she proved to be right.

We looked on the web together and discovered that LEGO had a convenient way to order missing pieces, gratis. Super. But what was really super was the letter that came with the replacement bricks. Some highlights from their letter:

Thanks for getting in touch with us. I’m sorry there were item(s) missing from your new LEGO set. We try really hard to make sure all LEGO toys are perfect, but sometimes a faulty one sneaks through. Actually—controlling the quality of the toys that leave our factory is a big job (about seven LEGO sets are sold every second!) . . . and we have a whole department of experts (and machines) who test every LEGO set before it leaves us—they even weigh every box to make sure there’s nothing missing. We’d like to get even better at catching any faulty LEGO sets, though, so I’m passing your comments on to the team in charge of testing. It’ll help them make sure this doesn’t happen again. [Emphasis mine.]

A response like this can make things better–bring the customer closer to, more engaged with, and ultimately more loyal to your brand than if things hadn’t gone wrong in the first place, through its well-thought-out, customer-involving approach.

How can that be?  Because it brings a customer closer to the company: now the customer has gone through this event with your company, has come out the other side, and feels that they’re both on the same team.

Note, especially, how the LEGO letter makes a point of including my daughter in the process of improving things at LEGO.


Expect things to go wrong. Plan for this eventuality, keeping the
emotional needs of your customer central.

Micah Solomon is a customer loyalty consultant, customer service consultant, speaker, and author.