In the current brand climate focused on revenue growth at all costs, the answer to driving customer loyalty is quite simple: Do what mom taught you.
Or in other words: Just do the right thing.
Across all industries from retail to airline, and CPG to hospitality, each has fallen a long way away from understanding that the customer is king. It’s not the brand that controls each dollar; it’s the customer.
The good news is that marketers love to get together and throw around the term “customer centricity,” which is actually much-needed in today’s market.
The bad news is that for too many marketers, customer centricity is simply a number in a spreadsheet to prove results. It’s not a mantra instilled in employees. It doesn’t guard the best interests of those customers who hold the company in their hands.
Even with customer centricity models gaining ground, customer loyalty is largely controlled with a carrot or a stick—or in marketing terms, points and tiers to drive behavior through positive outcomes or negative possibilities. And to a large extent those controlling factors are motivational to produce desired outcomes with specific customers. They absolutely help build engagement, and produce higher revenue and return visits. But the key is understanding the difference between orthodoxy and orthopraxy.
Just because a customer is performing as the brand wants, doesn’t mean they believe in it. Some might say that’s unimportant if the results show progress, but again, you can’t measure loyalty through one metric.
In fact, there’s a human element to loyalty that doesn’t show up on the balance sheet at all, yet it’s in every metric a company can measure. Loyalty is fused to every dollar, point, or KPI you can pull. Its impact is expansive yet nebulous. It’s rare that marketers can truly measure what customers hold in their hearts. No matter what loyalty program is in place, a customer won’t truly be loyal unless they identify, trust and believe in the brand.
Knowing that, it’s difficult to understand the seemingly endless stream of nightmarish scenarios encountered by consumers recently.
Consider United Airlines and their decision to remove a passenger to help their own employees get to a location.
Even more egregiously, they decided the passenger based on lowest ticket price and then proceeded to physically rip him from the plane when he refused since he had bought-and-paid for his seat.
In what customer-driven world is it okay to kick a passenger off a flight without any remedial offer to make up for that bad experience? It’s arguably the worst customer experience in the last decade. Rightfully so, their backwards approach to customer experience costs the airline 6% of its market cap and around $680 million.
While United Airline’s example is currently top of mind and notably outrageous, there are more common examples of companies that simply can’t understand how to be nice to their customers and how it can help them build loyalty. Consider the everyday nickel-and-diming of hotels and retail brands to inflate profits. It comes in the form of added fees for a bottle of water in your hotel, exorbitant shipping cost for a package, massive exclusions on promotions, only receiving store credit for returns, or even ticketing services charging to print concert tickets. It’s obvious they’ve lost any sense of humility.
Brands created a sense of self-importance. A sense that enforcing their will over consumers is more important than customer sentiment.
But humility pays off in the long run.
Southwest Airlines often shows up as a paragon of customer PR. Their recent actions to help a mother get to her seriously-injured son is yet another example of their ability to empower employees to feel empathy with customers and give them the ability to do the right thing. The airline rerouted her flight back to the gate as it was about to take off so she could be informed of her son’s accident. Then they booked her to Denver for free with meals and hotel included so she could see her injured son. It’s not about the PR benefits; it’s about helping that woman in her time of crisis.
An example from retail is Patagonia. And while it may seem small compared to previous examples, it’s the driving force behind Patagonia’s brand. They have a huge following of die-hards across the country. But the company didn’t just build that loyalty up overnight through their commitment to the environment. For years Patagonia has offered a lifetime guarantee on their products with a commitment to repair any item that doesn’t meet that standard.
That’s not just an investment in their clothing, it’s an investment in their customers. A pledge to provide the best quality—they’re going out on a ledge for their customers. In return they’re one of the few companies that could shut their doors for Black Friday—they don’t need the rush of profits. How many brands can do that today?
If brands want to drive genuine loyalty, they need to show loyalty first. And the easiest way for brands to show loyalty is to be humble, do the right thing, and just be kind. Do what your mom taught you and you’ll be on the right track.