Get the Everyday Basics Right – Then Work on Customer Loyalty

Loyal customers

In this article you will learn how to start building true loyalty that delivers sustainable financial rewards.

It always amazes me how companies put so much emphasis on loyalty programs yet they can’t get the everyday basics right about the customer experience.

This past weekend I was out shopping at a downtown mall with my wife. We strolled into one of the well-known pre-teen clothing stores to pick up a couple of items for our daughter. We needed some help picking the right accessories, and as it happened, five sales associates were “working” in the cash area. Two of them were actually working the registers; the other three were chatting together in a corner.

When I asked for some help, one of the associates, without even glancing up or making eye-contact, mumbled “Give me a minute”. I was obviously interrupting her conversation.

My intent, with this article, is not to advise on how the sales floor should be run, but rather, to recommend focusing on fixing the basics, for as it happens, this retailer also invests heavily in quarterly promotions, elaborate online contests, and a points program with the view that that these types of initiatives increase customer loyalty.

From my personal vantage point as Director of Customer Experience programs, the hot button among retailers these days seems to be “loyalty programs” – “loyalty programs will bring people in the door”; “loyalty programs will help us through this economic downturn”; “loyalty programs build advocates among our customers”.

In fact, the right loyalty programs, implemented at the right time in the life cycle of an organization, will encourage repeat business. But you can’t put the cart before the horse. The personal relationships that you’re trying to build with your customers, where they feel emotionally connected with your brand and advocate you to people they know, is only achieved after you’ve been able to deliver products and services to them in a reliable manner, day in and day out.

First you have to earn the right to your customers’ confidence. You have to deliver an experience that is consistent. If you were to install listening posts at various customer touch points, this is what you should hear: “You get it right”, “You know me”, “You always deliver”, “You treat me with respect”.

If these are not the types of messages you are hearing from your customers, then your foundation likely has some cracks in it. If your goal is to build personal relationships with customers where they have an emotional bond and will recommend you to their friends – a true indicator of loyalty and the benefits that go along with it – you really have to start with the basics – there is no shortcut.

The trouble is, in most cases, the basics have to do with the interpersonal skills of your employees. And such skills are often very difficult or take a long time to change, even with the best training programs.

So what are you going to do? Retrain some of your people? Fire some of them? Overhaul your entire sales staff? The big question here is: Do you invest in HR or in Marketing? Hmmm, a loyalty program could do the trick! It would be much quicker and less intrusive than a longer-term employee retooling.

Problem is, your customers can see right through it. “The market is smart”, as they say. If you think you’re going to build true loyalty this way, you’re mistaken. In fact, your strategy may backfire, because your customers may feel patronized by the introduction of some new points program as a cover for an aloof sales staff.

Now back to our clothing retailer. My recommendation, if they’re in it for the long haul, is to spend their dollars on better employee selection programs – screening for people who are highly engaged and place a high importance on customer service, are dependable, and take initiative on their own. Consistency on the sales floor provides reliability for the consumer, and gives them confidence in your brand.

Months are ticking by anyway. Cut your losses, get down to basics, and start building true loyalty that delivers sustainable financial rewards.

About the Author

Mark Orlan is a Senior Technology Leader, delivering client-centric solutions that drive engagement and brand loyalty.

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