Loyalty: How to Use Technology to Earn It
A customer experience revolution is afoot in the business world. Companies have figured out just how important loyalty is to their long term success and are beginning to rebalance their marketing investments away from the more traditional marketing channels toward those that actually move their customers up the loyalty ladder and earn brand advocacy.
So how can your brand create experiences that build customer loyalty? Believe it or not, loyalty doesn’t come from “wowing” your customers at every turn. If we look deep into the science of decision making and brand affinity or loyalty, there is a clear pattern that emerges.
Those products and services that win customer’s hearts and loyalty are those that apply the four tactics described below in every aspect of their business. From how you provide information in the pre-sale phases of your customer’s evaluation, to how you service your customer after they purchase your product or service; every experience they have with you is an opportunity to either build loyalty or destroy it in your customer’s mind.
The four ways to build loyalty are:
1. Produce Trust Over Time. Solve Problems Consistently.
Trust is pretty simple in concept, but extremely difficult to maintain over time because we don’t think about what creates and earns trust. Sustained trust is earned by consistently delivering on your word. Do what you say you will. Don’t over-sell your product. Be honest and do your best to produce the best experiences in your market because you want to build a hundred year relationship with your customer.
Consistency is a key term in the trust formula. Your customers come to you expecting to get a product or service that is priced fairly and does what you promised it would do. Ensuring that each experience supports those expectations in a way that is brand aligned and matches every expectation that you set in the pre-sales process is key. Unless your business is in a position where it consistently delivers what your customers expect, you should focus your energy and investments on delivering on your word.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” — Aristotle
2. Reduce Your Customer’s Effort.
Simplicity is one of those things that we know when we see it. When an experience is simple, it is elegant and when it is elegant, we find that we enjoy it. With every interaction in your customer’s journey, find ways to reduce the amount of effort that your customers have to expend. Take a hard look at every single step in your customer’s journey to look for ways to remove or reduce effort from your clients.
In building technology experiences, I like to say that we should be fascist about removing every click and swipe from every single user interface. What additional steps do your customers have to take to accomplish a goal in the context of your business? Remove every possible step for them.
Another way to reduce effort for your customers is to use all of the data that you have about them wherever you can. For example, you should never make your customers give you a piece of information that you already have about them. Share data across your interaction points and invest in technology to ensure that the right information is available at each interaction point at the right time.
Some of the most inspiring experiences are created when you are able to reduce your customers effort by leveraging data to produce useful insights and find creative ways to be predictive at every turn. The data that is available today is more accessible and more useful than ever before, so use it. Here are some questions to ask yourself about the experience you provide today:
- How can you provide better and more relevant information in the pre-sales evaluation process?
- How can you produce better technology experiences for your best customers when they are using your product or service?
- How can you better predict when they will have a service disruption and how can you use data to get in front of it?
3. Intercept Service Disruptions. Manage Your Customers Anxiety.
What separates the mediocre brands from the best brands are those that handle service disruptions effectively and swiftly. Every company has some sort of service disruptions with their products or services. I argue that the most powerful way to earn brand loyalty is by doing a great job resolving those inevitable issues. It is also uncommon for companies to handle bad experiences well. It makes people feel like they matter and like they are heard when their issues are resolved.
In fact, you have an even better opportunity to build loyalty when you resolve issues for your customers than when there are no issues at all with your product or service. This is how brands like Starbucks, Apple and Harley Davidson build customer loyalty. If you don’t believe me, try telling your barista that you are not happy with your drink the next time you visit a Starbucks and watch how practiced and poised she is as she acknowledges your concern and works to make you another drink that is exactly right - with no questions asked. Or walk into an Apple store with a problem and see how they make you feel about your problem.
Service disruptions that are handled effectively become the stories that your customers tell to friends and colleagues when they become brand advocates.
Invest heavily in understanding how your customers get disrupted in their journey with your firm. From their experiences with your marketing to your sales process through support; figure out how to get in front of each possible service disruption. Learn from what is frustrating them and making your customers unhappy. Make cleaning up these messes a key focus for your business.
“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” — Bill Gates
4. Be Human. Connect with Your Users
At the end of the day, we are dealing with living, breathing and emotional human beings. Knowing when and where to insert a human touch into your business can make a impact loyalty. In other words:
Build empathy into your software products.
There are many things that your firm can do to improve the human experience. For example, there is research and data to supports that images of faces engage us on a personal level. We are more likely to “like” and otherwise interact with posts that have faces associated with them. People also respond warmly to pictures of themselves, hence the modern phenomena of the selfie.
Research has also shown that once a user uploads an image of themselves or creates an avatar, they are much more likely to continue to engage online. It represents a level of investment in a platform and can be a key measure of initial engagement.
“A customer doesn’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” — Damon Richards
Another way to build software that produces empathy is to build algorithms that help you engage humans to solve problems. Knowing when to pick up the phone and call your customer during service disruptions can make all the difference. Of course, that means that you also have to train your people to be empathetic and hire for those skills. The key point is to:
Turn frustration into inspiration with people who care about your customers.
As a technology company, we are seeing a shift in the investments that most of our clients are making in their digital assets. Companies are making much more substantial up-front investments in the user experience and the digital components of their customer’s journey than ever before. At the end of the day, the technologies that you employ to serve your customers — are some of your most impactful brand assets.
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References and works that influenced this piece:
- “Maslow on Management” by Abraham Maslow, 1998
- “Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action” by Simon Sinek, 2011
- “The Handbook of Self Determination Research by Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, 2013
- “The Effortless Experience” by Mathew Dixon and Nick Toman, 2013
- The Amazement Revolution by Shep Hyken, 2011
- Secret Service; Hidden Systems that Deliver Unforgettable Customer Service by John DiJuliu, 2003
- The Loyalty Ladder by Sean Flaherty, 2015
- Move, Touch and Inspire Your Customers by Sean Flaherty, 2014
- Bragging Rights by Sean Flaherty, 2016
- Trust: How to Use Technology to Earn It by Sean Flaherty, 2016
- Effort by Sean Flaherty, 2016
- Three Unbreakable Rules for User Interfaces by Sean Flaherty, 2015
- Why Smiles Generate Leniency by LaFrance and Hecht, 1995
- The Affect Heuristic