Earning Loyalty

Sean Flaherty
Apr 6, 2020 · 7 min read
Earning and Sustaining Loyalty (The Game You Never Finish)

Authentic, self-determined loyalty takes time and experience to earn. I use the word “earn” because it is difficult to purposefully create. It takes the persistent delivery of value that comes over time through many cycles of making commitments and keeping them at a level your customers perceive as valuable. Loyalty is hard to earn. It generally takes longer to achieve than we believe and without an objective measurement system for loyalty, we don’t know we have earned it. In general, we often tend to apply logic equating recurring purchase to loyalty and I believe this to be a mistake as it relates to Loyalty.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” — Maya Angelou

We know loyalty is a critical step in our customer relationship as I previously described in the loyalty ladder. Without it, we have no opportunity for earning advocacy.

So how can you create experiences that inspire loyalty? I do not believe loyalty comes from “wowing” your customers at every turn. According to Horst Schultz or Ritz Carlton hotels, to earn loyalty, you have to be consistently better than the competition. You only have to be a little better than your competition, but you have to be consistently better.

If we look deep into the science of decision making and loyalty, some clear patterns emerge. Products and services that win customer’s hearts and loyalty are those that consistently 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 earn loyalty or diminish it in your customer’s mind.

There are lots of different things contributing to loyalty, but I have found it useful to brainstorm around these four key things to accelerates our purposeful development of authentic, self-determined loyalty from our customers.

The four ways to accelerate loyalty are:

The four components of loyalty described in the article represented inside of a contextual model that is an infinity symbol.
Earning and Sustaining Loyalty (An Infinite Game)
  1. Produce Trust Over Time. Solve problems and deliver value consistently.

Trust is pretty simple in concept, but extremely difficult to maintain over time because we don’t spend enough time being purposeful about what creates and earns trust. Sustained trust is earned by consistently delivering on your word. Your Say:Do ration needs to remain as close to one as possible. Do what you said you would do.

SAY:DO = 1:1

This means you cannot over-sell your product. Be honest and do your best to produce the best experiences in your market because you are playing the long-game with your customers. You want to inspire this type of thinking. We are in this to build one hundred year, or longer, relationships with as many of our customers as possible. While this may sound extreme, lofty and unachievable, it is more than possible to think this way and to instill this kind of thinking into your culture. This is a key way to help you achieve better motivation from your employees as well.

Consistency is a key term in the trust formula. Your customers come to you expecting to get a fairly priced product or service, which does what you promised it would do. Ensuring each experience supports those expectations in a way that matches every expectation 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. Simplify things for them.

Simplicity is one of those things we know when we see it. When an experience is simple, it is elegant and when it is elegant, we find we enjoy it. With every interaction in your customer’s journey, find ways to reduce the amount of effort 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 we should be fascist about removing every click and swipe from every single user interface. Every interaction needs a purpose. What additional steps do your customers have to take to accomplish a goal in the context of your products or services? Remove every possible step for them.

Another way to reduce effort for your customers is to use the data you have about them wherever you can. For example, you should never make your customers give you a piece of information you already have about them if you can avoid it. Share data across your interaction points and invest in technology to ensure 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 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. Improve Their Lives. Show you care about their needs.

When the products and services we invest our time and information in improve our lives, we naturally become loyal. We can leverage the higher levels of Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to unpack how this might work. Loyalty is accelerated when:

  • your customer feels safer or more in control of her future as a result of your using or working with your product or service.
  • your customer feels more connected in her industry as a result of working with you, loyalty is accelerated.
  • your customer learns and grows personally as a result of working with you, loyalty is accelerated.
  • your customer feels more relevant and self actualizing as a result of working with you.

The more of these things you do in the context of your products and services, the more loyalty you will generate.

There are always more ways to build empathy into the experiences you produce for your customers.

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 powerful impact on loyalty. In other words:

“A customer doesn’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” — Damon Richards

Another way to build software to produce 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, this means you also have to train your people to be empathetic and hire for those skills. The key point is to:

Turn frustration into inspiration for your customers through people who care about them.

4. Handle Service Disruptions Well. Manage their anxiety.

What separates the best, loyalty earning companies, from the mediocre companies is how they handle service disruptions. Those who handle problems effectively, swiftly and empathically are those who stand out. Every company has some sort of service disruptions with their products or services. A powerful way to earn loyalty is by doing a great job resolving those inevitable issues. It is uncommon for companies to handle bad experiences well. It makes people feel as though they matter and are heard when their issues are resolved swiftly and empathetically.

You often 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 how unhappy you are 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 in exactly the way you want it — with no questions asked. Or walk into an Apple store with a problem and observe how they make you feel about your problem.

Service disruptions that are handled effectively become the stories your customers tell when they become 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

As a technology company, we are seeing a shift in the investments 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 you employ to serve your customers — are some of your firms most impactful assets.

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