Are customers ever truly loyal?

Profile picture for user dlopes By David Lopes March 4, 2015
Summary:
Customer loyalty doesn't exist. Is that madness that runs contrary to all customer experience wisdom, asks Oracle's David Lopes?

David Lopes
David Lopes

I recently read this report, by consumer behaviour specialist Philip Graves, which sets out a very intriguing proposition: that customer loyalty doesn’t exist.

For anyone who has worked in the customer experience game or who has ever tried to justify extra spend on service with a view to improving the bottom line, this may sound like pure madness. After all, isn’t creating customer loyalty what we’re all tasked with?

But Graves actually makes a good point.

What we mistake for loyalty is in fact ‘stickiness’. Let’s face it: whilst people only really care about brands that deliver great experiences; very few of us are loyal to them in same the way that you or I are loyal to our family, for example, or football team.

Sports fans don’t abandon a team on the back of just one more poor result, yet we might not hesitate to do so to a provider of goods or services who fails to deliver to our expectations.

The good news is that by thinking about stickiness rather than loyalty we can focus purely on observable human behavior – something that’s much easier for brands to measure accurately and act on.

Best behaviors

Graves lists four ways to drive stickiness through behavior:

  • Build strong and positive associations through superb – and unique – customer service.
  • Design experiences around what makes life easy for the customer rather than the brand.
  • Make sure that customers never regret a purchase.
  • Create service ‘anchors’: positive mental reference points that keep customers coming back for more.

For me, all this amounts to one key discipline: understanding the customer journey, from their perspective. This process involves mapping each step the customer takes during their relationship with the brand; from the moment the customer first realises they need something, into the research phase and right through to purchase and servicing.

On reflection, our experiences of brands are comprised of the sum of these steps and are viewed in their totality. We don’t, for example, see a difference between a company’s customer help line and its website: both are just different parts of the overall brand image.

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Our view of a company is also closely tied to our context, e.g.:  which product reviews we’ve read, what our friends are saying about it online and what our past experiences have been. All our social networks, physical and virtual, feed into this context.

When looking at the customer journey, therefore, brands must ignore their own organizational siloes and focus only on the customer, his or her experiences and perceptions. They are all that matter.

I therefore think creating sticky customer associations is about the free flow of information and customer context into the brand.

Viewing the customer in this way allows businesses to deliver the right product at the right time with the right engagement and the right enablement, one which allows them to disrupt and change in a way that delights their customers.

Today’s digitally-enabled customers are a powerful bunch and they are ready, willing and more than able to switch brands at the drop of a hat.

There is no loyalty. Knowing that,  make sure you are as sticky as possible. Treat customer experience as a science rather than an art and work to truly understand the behavior and psychology of your customers.