How long has it been since you, as the customer, were delighted by an interaction with someone who was compensated to serve you? Can you remember that far back? Did that interaction surprise you? When you think back on that experience, how does it make you feel today about that individual—and by extension—that organization?
Author and researcher Seth Godin makes a useful distinction between two kinds of loyalty. The first kind of loyalty is the loyalty of convenience. “I'm going to look around, sure, but probably won't switch. Switching is risky, it's time consuming. . . . Switching means I might make a mistake or lose my [frequent flyer] miles or have to defend a new decision.” Convenience loyalty results simply from habit: we can take the same bus every day and still hate the bus company. One executive we work with says “Inertia is not loyalty!”
Godin describes the second kind of loyalty as, "I'm not looking, and I’m not even interested in looking." This is the loyalty of someone who doesn't want to know there's a better deal somewhere else. This type of loyalty is more anchored in emotional commitment than inertia. Doesn’t that describe how we feel about our favorite brand or business?
Discounts and reward programs are easy to offer, and while they may bring repeat business, they alone will not create this kind of emotionally intense loyalty.
Emotionally intense feelings often come through our interactions with people. We feel it when we engage with them. They welcome us, smile at us, they speak kindly and respectfully to us. They go out of their way to greet us and make things easy for us. They are so nice, so accommodating that we start to wonder Who are these people? Where do they find people like this? Why do we love them? Often because they love us!
We also feel it when they don’t love us. When they’re indifferent. When at best they give us a tight smile and a “have a good day.” Or when at worst they ignore us, mess up our order, quote policy to us, or find some excuse not to serve us. Most annoying are times when people refuse to take responsibility for our poor experience.
When American Express studied 1,620 customers under laboratory conditions, 63 percent said “they felt their heart rate increase when they thought about receiving great customer service.” These thoughts “triggered the same cerebral reactions as feeling loved. The takeaway? When it comes to customer service, it’s not about what customers think. Great service is about feelings.”i
As customers, we are so love-starved that we are simply amazed—even shocked— when we encounter a genuine, caring voice on the help line or a kind face across the service desk. The pulse quickens. We’re flooded with warmth. We are so used to apathetic faces and impersonal, formula-spouting voices that we can be truly overwhelmed by the opposite.
In a study commissioned by Oracle Corporation, when asked what makes a memorable experience that causes consumers to stick with a brand, 73% of the people they interviewed said "friendly employees or customer service representatives.” Thinking about our own experiences when we were particularly happy or angry with another organization (whether as business people or as consumers), we often think about the people involved and our interactions with them. Of course, the products, company policies, computer systems, and pricing structure can certainly anger or delight us too, but fierce loyalty comes with a focus on the intense positive emotion that can be created through our personal engagement with customers.
iJeff Kober, “How Do You Feel About Customer Service?” WorldClass Benchmarking, Feb. 22, 2016. http://worldclassbenchmarking.com/how-do-you-feel-about-customer-service/
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