When Loyalty Bears Repeating

I have a friend who used to shop at the same grocery store almost every week. And every week, she complained about how much she hated going there.

The store layout was cumbersome, she said, and the employees were ill informed. The prices were not that great and she was often overcharged on sale items.

Yet every week she returned to this store, and she also used her loyalty card, which recorded all of her purchases, even though the coupons she got in return were rarely for products she purchased. She estimates she spent anywhere from $80-$100 a week at this one location.

My friend was hardly loyal to this merchant. But I have a hunch that based on her shopping patterns, this merchant felt for sure she was loyal. In fact, I bet a lot of companies measure and count “loyal customers” based on repeat business and longevity.

But it would be a mistake to confuse repeat business with customer loyalty, or intimacy. Repeat business may be the simple result of a variety of functions: location, price, service or product. It also is likely be driven by routine, needs and availability.

Customer intimacy, however, is when a customer chooses to stay with your brand even when an equal or potentially better alternative is available.

How is customer intimacy achieved, then? My guide can be found in four basic, but crucially important, steps:

1. Build Emotional Loyalty: Know what your best customers love about you and build on that.

2. Assure You Are Relevant to Your Customers: Resonate with you customers through a differentiated experience.

3. Use Data Responsibly: When consumers share personal information with you, they are entering into a value exchange. Give them something of worth in return for the data they give you.

4. Make the Loyalty Leap: Get organization-wide commitment to redirect your focus from the product to the consumer.

Follow these four steps and you should be able to hold on to your customers even in the face of worthy competition. Take my friend. She eventually dropped her nearby supermarket in favor of a merchant that sits more than five miles from her home and is no less expensive. But the shopping experience is so much more enjoyable, she said, she doesn’t at all mind the drive.

I will delve deeper into each of these four steps in future posts. Stay tuned.

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