Seven Keys to Building Customer Loyalty–and Company Profits

A personal bond with customers lets your company escape the commodity pricing wars and provides you with a powerful new marketing arm: loyal customers who will promote and defend your company online and off—for free. Here are seven tips for getting the process started of building customer loyalty in a big way.

1. Are your doorknobs sparkling brightly? Research proves that customers remember the first and last moments of a service encounter much more vividly—and for longer—than the rest of it. Make sure that the first and final elements of your customer interactions are particularly well engineered, because they are going to stick in the customer’s memory.

Example: Chris Cambridge’s gift shop in the tourist town of Bar Harbor, Maine puts customers on a good footing immediately with a cheery sign: “YES: Your Ice Cream Cones Are Welcome (just be careful of the drips) … And We Love Your Dogs, Too!” What a sharp contrast this offers to the buzzkill from “no food-no drink-no soliciting-no shoes-no shirts-no pets!” signs found everywhere else in town. Weary tourists who’ve been feeling scolded by all of those “no way!” signs are going to be uniquely disposed to whatever Chris is selling—from the moment they cross his threshold.

2. Set your clocks forward. Modern customers expect speedier service than did any generation before them. In this age of Blackberrys and iPhones, Twitter and Zappos, you might as well not be there if you’re going to be late.

Example: Think your latest order was handled at Amazon HQ by Mr. Bezos’ hand-picked crew? Maybe not! has partnered so closely with UPS that your order may have been transmitted instantly to Lexington, Kentucky, where UPS had the object of your desire already warehoused and ready to ship. This makes it possible for you to place your order well into the evening and—in a pinch—receive that item early the next morning with nearly 100% accuracy, a result that has amplified expectations of what “timeliness” means for customers nationwide.

3. Allow your customers to connect with a real person—online or off. Online customers are literally invisible to you (and you to them), so it’s easy to shortchange them emotionally. But this lack of visual and tactile presence makes it even more crucial to create a sense of personal, human-to-human connection in the online arena.

Example 1: Instead of a Web-based chat window that blandly announces “You are now chatting with Jane,” try “You are now chatting with Jane Yang-Katzenberg.” The customers will treat your “Jane” better, they’ll take her advice more seriously—and they’ll be more likely to want a committed customer relationship with her company.

Example 2: Netflix has long had a superbly functioning Web site, and adequate self-help-style online support. So there’s probably no reason you truly need to talk with a real human being about your Netflix account. But that hasn’t stopped Netflix from trying to pull you into a phone conversation if you encounter even the briefest rough going online! Recently, Netflix has begun plastering their toll-free number all over their Web site and has even staffed an expensive new call center—in Portland, Oregon, not overseas—to handle the increased calls. Why go to these expensive lengths, for customers who hardly need any technical support in the first place? Simple. As competition for online video customers began tightening recently, Netflix realized that to maintain competitive advantage they needed to bind themselves to their customers. So they’re creating the warm, personal, human connections that produce customer loyalty. That’s bound to be money well spent.

4. Remember each customer’s roles, goals, and preferences. No matter how large your company is—or is hoping to be—strive companywide for the emotional impact of the beloved neighborhood bartender, doorman, or hairstylist—the kind of person who would remember Bob’s special preferences, his schedule, the quirks of his lifestyle. For all sizes and types of companies, a superb client tracking system can provide this information instantly—so that you can create for returning customers the crucial feeling of being noticed and remembered.   – MORE –

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