As I have discussed every market, every product, every individual business with its unique set of customers has their own set of customer requirements that, if fulfilled, will generate on-going customer loyalty. I define on-going customer loyalty as having two key ingredients. The first is an ever growing set of customers who will utilize your services or products on an on-going regular basis. But true loyalty comes from having customers that without incentive or coercion tell everyone they know who are in the market for your services that they should utilize you. If you can fulfill this ultimate goal you will generate on-going and long term value for the stakeholders in your business.
In my posts so far I have talked mostly about the internal requirements that are the basis for generating customer loyalty. I have hinted at the larger concept of defining what your customers consider the things they want in a service or product like yours. I call these the cherries on top of the icing on the cake. With any business there are typically more than one type of cherry and perhaps even blueberries, raspberries and other loyalty generating items that are required to succeed. But I believe there is one overriding key ingredient that all customers want from every business they utilize.
The fact that the customer loyalty cake has many ingredients and that each business has their own unique cake makes describing the solution difficult in a blog or white paper. But loyalty is derived from the human psyche. Just like Abraham Maslow defined the human psyche with his hierarchy of needs, loyalty has a similar hierarchy.
In fact, loyalty fits into the Maslow hierarchy quite well. Maslow stated that all humans will first seek to fulfill their physiological needs (food, drink…the things that sustain life). Until those are fulfilled they will expend all of their energy to meet those needs. Next we will fulfill our safety needs (shelter, etc.) and likewise, we will not move on to fulfill our social needs until we are satisfied we have fulfilled these safety needs. Only after we have fulfilled all three, physiological, safety and social will we then search to fulfill our esteem and then self-actualization needs.
At the top of the customer loyalty hierarchy are the things specific to your business. But your clients will never value them appropriately if the lower levels of the hierarchy are not first met. I have spent extensive time discussing the layer related to your internal operations, which I believe are the third level of the hierarchy. I have also talked about many of the ingredients of the second layer. These are things like honesty, integrity, respect, good communications, societal norms and industry regulations/rules. If you don’t have these things met, building your internal customer loyalty program (layer three) will fail, and you will never generate true long term loyalty from your customers.
So what is the one thing that is the foundation of the hierarchy, the one thing that every customer wants in a business and that you must figure out a way to fulfill? It is TRUST.
Every customer wants to know that no matter how good everything else in their experience was, that they can trust you to repeat it each time they come back. It does not matter whether it is the clean bathrooms at McDonald’s that made my wife have us stop at McDonald’s whenever we were on a road trip and someone needed to use a bathroom, the honesty of your team, the quality of your product/service, or the price. To drive loyalty your customers must believe that whatever it is that drove their positive experience will be repeated again and again.
You see once you have a customer’s trust moving them up the hierarchy to the cherry level becomes much easier. You are going to build that trust by fulfilling the level two loyalty needs of honesty, integrity, meeting industry and legal standards, etc. Level three loyalty then becomes a matter of policy and procedure. So that leaves you to concentrate on the cherries, blueberries and other treats that will generate that true sustained loyalty in levels 4 and beyond.