The art of customer loyalty

Create a company your customers will love

And according to the White House Office of Consumer Affairs, 96% of unhappy customers don’t complain but will tell between 9-15 people about their negative experience.

That can be bad news for a business’ bottom line.

So as Christian CEOs and business owners, how do you satisfy your customer’s needs and desires, including difficult-to-articulate intangibles? This is where the concept of customer sacrifice – the gap between what customers want or need and what they actually experience or settle for – comes into play.

This is most obvious with customers conditioned to expect mediocrity from offerings designed for the mythical -average  customer.

Commercial airline travel is a perfect example. Years ago, air travel offered free personalized touches that made passengers feel special. Today, you’re unlikely to be offered: your preferred brand of cola, help with stowing your luggage, enough room to work on your laptop computer or a satisfying snack/meal on a long flight.

Southwest Airlines has distanced itself from competitors by simply enabling customers to retain a semblance of personal control while escaping certain customer sacrifices such as baggage fees, ticket change fees, and delayed airplane ingress/egress due to sloppy concourse and gate management.

Unfortunately, across other industries, numerous examples of high-customer sacrifices exist, including:

– inability to use your preferred credit card

-waiting in line due to being unable to reserve an appointment

-rules that prevent substitutions, refunds, or changes

– inability to access wireless internet (or being charged for the privilege)

– blackout dates on frequent flyer miles, vacations, or coupons

– service delays, interruptions, or waiting (e.g., medical clinics, airports, government)

If you reduce transaction costs in a way that adds to customer sacrifice, you can easily end up a net loser.

So how does your company fare versus your industry’s best-in-class on transaction cost and customer sacrifice? Do you even know?

You must know your customers well enough to be able to accurately assess any new initiative’s impact on transaction cost and customer sacrifice. Plus, you need to press into the softer issues of how satisfied people feel when doing business with you using the following four levels of perceived value:

Basic: the minimum level of performance, service, or quality, which customers will accept. Below this level of service, it’s impossible to sustain a business. This “no frills” level of service is acceptable when superior alternatives aren’t readily available or affordable.

Expected: possessing attributes that customers view as customary. For example: a salesperson will explain the vehicle’s features, restaurants offer a reasonable selection of menu items at sensible prices, hotels provide fresh-brewed coffee, and web or mail order retailers will accept returns if you’re not pleased with the product.

Desired: attributes that customers don’t necessarily expect, but understand and appreciate. For example: the salesperson offers helpful hints about enjoying the car, a server suggests special menu items or makes the dining experience more enjoyable, the front desk provides special assistance to make your stay more comfortable, and retailers enable “no-cost” returns for unwanted items.

Unanticipated: this breakthrough level creates customer loyalty and delight by incorporating surprising attributes that add memorable value beyond a customer’s typical desires and expectations. For example: the salesperson personally delivers the new car to your home or office, the restaurant manager offers samples of a popular appetizer, the hotel clerk offers complimentary bottled water, coffee, and fresh-baked cookies during registration, or the mail order retailer contacts you to confirm your satisfaction.

Every client transaction falls into one of the above four categories. We need to clearly understand our service through  our customer’s eyes and our “cradle-to-grave” customer cycle which includes the many moments of truth our customers experience with us.

This cycle is comprised of every customer interaction over the life of our relationship, from initial awareness to pricing, ordering, delivery, payment, training, warranty, and post-sale assistance.

Many well-known tools can help us measure customer satisfaction, including surveys, focus groups, personal visits, complaint analysis, and competitive benchmarking.

Nothing is more vital to our long-term success than staying in our customers’ heads! No matter how sophisticated our technology becomes, our ability to understand and satisfy customer desires is the key to our long-term growth and success.

At the end of the day, we most want to serve others as we would want to be served (Mt 7:12). When we do this, satisfaction, loyalty, and honoring God with our work is much more likely to follow!