“So, you wanna start a business. How do you start? What do you need? Well, first of all, you need a building. And secondly, you need supply. You need something to sell. Now this could be anything. It could be... a... thingamajig. Or a.... whosi-whatsi. Or... [pulls out a candy bar] a Whatchamacallit [throws bar]. Now, you need to sell those in order to have a PayDay [takes out a PayDay, throws it]. And, if you sell enough of them, you will make a 100 Grand [throws 100 Grand bar]. [pulls out a Snickers] Satisfied?”
Michael Scott, Regional Manager
Scranton Branch, Dunder Mifflin Paper Co. 1
What makes a successful business? What do you need? Unlike the views expressed by business ‘savant’ character Michael Scott from ‘The Office’, there are a couple fundamental things each business needs to do to stay in business and be successful. These may not be the thoughts that are on the top of your mind, but chances are if you’re the owner, entrepreneur, or management team of your business you inherently know them, and are instinctively driven by them.
To be successful in business we need to create outstanding customer experiences and outcomes by solving real customer problems and creating delighted customers. When you continually deliver on these fundamental concepts, just about everything else in business - from profits, to growth, to brand reputation - is downstream. And it doesn’t matter what type of business you own or operate. If your business does not continually deliver great customer experiences, you’re not likely to be in business for very long. For those of us that do focus on delivering great customer experiences, we’re typically rewarded with repeat customers, growing numbers of customers, and loyal customers who behave as ambassadors of our brand, promoting our business to others. These businesses enter and stay in the so-called ‘customer loyalty loop’.
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Delivering great customer experiences positions your business to develop loyal customers. But why are loyal customers important? Loyal customers tend to be the most profitable customers, requiring less effort and expense to support. Loyal customers tend to buy more from you, and as an existing customer each incremental sale requires little to no extra expense (again contributing to increased profit). And lastly, yet arguably most importantly, loyal customers can be your best (and lowest cost) way to promote your business and brand to others. Research conducted by the father of Net Promoter Score, Frederick Reichheld of Bain & Company, shows an increase in customer retention rates of just 5% can increase profits by more than 25%2! Keeping customers in this loyalty loop pays dividends. So how is this done?
Customer loyalty has been around for centuries, even if it didn't always have that name. From Betty Crocker Box-Tops to mega-Airline miles, and everything in between, many companies have tried and failed to find true loyalty. See Section Three, The Evolution of Customer Loyalty Management to learn more about your gimmickfree game plan for customer loyalty.
Creating great customer outcomes and delivering great experiences are business skills and processes that can be easily formed by any business. Regardless of whether your business is large, small, established, a startup, service-oriented, product-oriented, traditional ‘brick & mortar’, or 100% online, this paper aims to educate you as to the methods by which you can employ processes to deliver outstanding customer experiences and build your own customer loyalty loop.
Although Michael Scott missed the importance of creating great customer experiences in his business discussion during the hysterical episode “Business School” from the The Office, if you employ the practices discussed in this paper and help your customers enter and stay in your customer loyalty loop, you too will enjoy a “PayDay”.
1 “Business School.” The Office. 5 February 2007. Season 3, Episode 16. Television.
2 Reichheld, Fred. “Prescription for cutting costs.” Bain & Company Inc.
Your customers are your business. Without them, you would be making products with no one to buy them, hiring staff with no one to serve, or buying inventory to get dusty on the shelves. Hopefully you love what you do, but more hopefully you do it because you want to make customers happy. Happy customers become loyal customers, right? Well, sometimes they do.
Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) is your customer’s attitude (many times, emotional feelings) toward the product or service they bought from you. If you’re thinking, ‘I provide great service, so all my customers must be satisfied!’ then think again. Just providing good customer service isn’t enough. If you have done the research to make sure you are providing the right message to the right person at the right time, then your customer satisfaction is likely to be high. In order to deliver the right message to the right person at the right time, you must be strategic.
Right Person You should know who your customer is. ‘Anyone could use my product!’ is not good enough. Creating customer profiles helps you to know who exactly your ideal customer is and how to reach them (here’s a handy Customer Profile Template3). Knowing the demographics of your customers such as age, gender, motivations, and locations, will allow you to find the right person for each of your products.
Right Time Once you know who your customer is and what you want to say to them, you can start to discover how to reach them. This has been true since the beginning of advertising. Want to sell pantyhose in 1940? Put an ad in Woman’s Day magazine. Procter & Gamble (P&G) perfected this with “their decision, long ago to produce radio and then TV programs to reach the audiences most likely to buy its products— hence, the term ‘soap opera.’”4 Of course, this principle now applies to the digital world. Your marketing efforts online should be coordinated to reach your customers at just the right time on social media, your online store, or search, as well as traditional media.
Right Message Representing yourself accurately in your marketing efforts is key to high customer satisfaction. There is no use in misrepresenting or overselling your product, because in the end, people’s satisfaction is a factor of what they expected to get and what they got. If you build up your service to be more than it is, then the customer will be disappointed. When you know who are you trying to reach, talk to them in a way that is engaging and helpful. Your message should feel tailored to them, not mass-broadcasted to the world. So, Satisfaction = Reality – Expectations.
Customer Loyalty is your customer’s ongoing behavior to continue purchasing from you. It is related to CSAT, but different. Typically, satisfied customers are more likely to be loyal, but just because they had a good experience once doesn’t mean they are magically going to buy from you from now on. It’s what happens after the sale that turns one-time customers into repeat customers. Loyalty is an ongoing customer experience decision - you must decide to actively engage your highly satisfied customers, even after they have completed their purchase. Following up with customers to let them know about additional products you offer, letting them be the first to know about new product launches, and listening to their feedback are good jumping off points to creating lasting customer loyalty.
3 Brown, Kristi. “How to Create a Customer Profile in 2019 [+ Template].” fitsmallbusiness.com, 2 January 2019.
4 David Court, Dave Elzinga, Susan Mulder, and Ole Jørgen Vetvik. “The Customer Decision Journey.” McKinsey Quarterly, 2009. pp. 1.
You can bet the first humans who were bartering goods hoped that they could go back to the same guy and offer more wheat for more leather pelts. Jump forward a few centuries to when Betty Crocker introduced loyalty Box-Tops, followed a few more decades later by every airline announcing frequent flier miles, such as American Airline’s Aadvantage5. Now, it seems as though every coffee shop has a (digital or analog) ‘punch card’ system - buy ten lattes, get one free! Other companies have paid monthly subscriptions or tier-based options to increase customer loyalty. Amazon is perhaps the most notable of the paid loyalty programs, with Prime Membership offering free shipping as well as streaming and listening services.
Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash
Points and rewards programs can help create repeat customers, but don’t confuse repeat purchase behavior with customer loyalty. When a better points program comes along, your repeat buyers may simply move over to the vendor with the flashier program. Focus on giving the customer experiences first, then remind your customers why they bought from you and why they were satisfied in the first place. When you consistently deliver outstanding customer experiences, you’ll be rewarded with growing numbers of happy, repeat customers many of whom will be brand advocates for your business. When people become advocates and promoters of your brand, you’ve successfully developed loyal customers. Think about Apple and Harley Davidson. Customers of these two companies are fiercely loyal, embracing the entire brand as part of who they are as people. These loyal customers ‘feel’ as if they are actually part of the company, and in reality they are because the company treats them as such by giving them outstanding customer experiences. They’re part of the company culture and express this with their loyalty. Their brand loyalty is so strong, they’ll continue to buy the company’s products even if they are lesser than products offered by competitors, or more expensive. That’s customer loyalty! Customer loyalty management is about doing a good job and making customers, particularly loyal customers, happy. Moral of the story – focus on delivering outstanding customer experiences that drive loyal customer behavior.
5 ”Aadvantage® – American Airlines.” Awardbird.com, accessed 12 December 2019.
Let’s face it - we are inundated with surveys. Chances to win gift cards that will never materialize, false promises of ‘quick’ surveys, and unacknowledged poor experiences all lead to a general frustration with surveys as a whole. They are typically too long and inconveniently navigate away from whichever email or webpage they originate from.
However, surveys really are the most efficient way to receive feedback from customers. Many transactions occur online, so there is limited or non-existent opportunity to create in-person relationships with customers. Surveys are a direct communication from consumers about their experience with your brand. Therefore, you should be using them to gather feedback from your customers. Surveys are also an integral part of the post-purchase experience phase of the ‘customer loyalty loop’ (see Section 5, The Evolution of the Customer Decision Journey).
If you’re going to use surveys (and you should), do it right. Asking for feedback is one aspect, and acting on it is an even bigger one. If you genuinely want to know what your customers are thinking/feeling about your brand, and are committed to creating a long-lasting relationship with your customer to keep them in the customer loyalty loop, follow these guidelines: keep it short, make it easily accessible, know what you’re trying to measure, and (most importantly) follow up.
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People are busier and more distracted than ever.
People today are busy and distracted. The chances of them finishing (or even starting) a long survey are almost nonexistent. Keep your survey to one or two questions for maximum response.
Hopefully you’ve captured as much information about your customer as possible to use in future marketing communications, with email address being the most basic piece of information. Email is going to be the easiest way to distribute your survey. Send it to your customer soon after their transaction, while their experience is still fresh in their mind.
There is an old adage, ‘In business, like in life, you cannot improve that which you do not measure.’ What are you trying to improve? What will you do with the information you collect? There is no use asking questions blindly with no clear vision of what you’ll do with the responses. Asking highly intentional questions will yield intentional results.
This is an integral stage of the post-purchase experience phase of the customer loyalty loop. Thank your customers for their feedback, regardless if it’s positive or negative. Reinforce positive experiences with incentives and respond to negative feedback quickly to create a positive remembered experience and increase your chances of capturing repeat business.
Now that you’ve listened to your customers and are armed with their feedback, you need to turn their feedback into actions. Delivering outstanding customer experiences is a continual process of gathering feedback and making adjustments. Nothing in business is static. We must continually evolve and adapt based on our customers' needs.
Develop good habits of regularly reviewing customer feedback to identify trends. Implement corrective action plans when negative issues and trends crop up. Close the loop with customers to let them know what corrective action plans you’ve implemented that address specific issues they’ve experienced and expressed. When you find positive trends, ensure your marketing embraces what customers say are great about your business so others can know too. Your customer feedback process, just like your business, is ongoing.
Develop a culture where customers are heard – the good, the bad, and the ugly - their feedback is analyzed, and improvements are made. Through these customer-inspired continuous improvements, more customers will remain in the loop and you’ll be delivering greater numbers of outstanding customer experiences.
Measuring CSAT is like a snapshot of how a customer feels at a given time. CSAT is measured with survey questions in the form of open-ended questions, multiple choice questions, questions with a range from ‘Very Dissatisfied’ to ‘Very Satisfied,’ Yes/No questions, among others.
On the other hand, measuring customer loyalty is more of a long term look at the value of your customers7. Examples of Customer Loyalty survey metrics include Negative Churn, Customer Retention Rate, Customer Lifetime Value, and most importantly, NPS or Net Promoter Score (explained in side bar).
An important follow-up to the NPS question is to ask for open-ended feedback. Encourage customers to write reviews for you on Google, your Facebook page, and other review sites that matter to you. Ask if you can use their comments in your marketing materials (See Section 8, The Power of Customer Reviews and Testimonials, p. 17). Of course, you should treat your detractors with just as much attention. Reach out to them directly to discover why they had a bad experience and find a way to remedy it. In absence of your attention paid to detractors, they may seek to post negative reviews online.
Gathering this information is just the beginning; what you do with the information is more powerful than the information itself. Your goal is to use this data to improve your business and increase the number of loyal customers to you and your brand.
Regardless of your industry, one of the best ways to measure customer loyalty is to regularly measure your Net Promoter Score(NPS). NPS is a simple metric that allows you to gauge your customer’s sentiment toward your business. It is calculated by asking one question: How likely is it that you would recommend our company to friends and colleagues? The customer is presented with a scale from negative sentiment to positive. There are various scale options, but the most popular scale presents choices from 0 to 10 (0 being very unlikely and 10 being very likely). Those who answer 0-6 are considered ‘detractors,’ who are not satisfied. Scores of 7-8 are ‘passive’ or on the fence. The happiest, most satisfied customers who score 9-10 are considered ‘promoters.’ Promoters are your biggest fans and are highly engaged with you brand.
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People who respond to the Net Promoter Score question with a rating of 9 or 10 are your promoters. They are likely to speak well of you online and recommend you to their friends. Engage them in the post-purchase phase of the customer loyalty loop - reward them with exclusive offers, advance notice of product launches, free swag, etc. and encourage them to leave reviews for you. Learn more about promoters in Section Five, The Evolution of the Customer Decision Journey.
7 Rodriguez, Jimmy. “What’s the Difference Between Customer Satisfaction and Customer Loyalty?” Hubspot. Date unknown.
According to Barry Schwartz in ‘The Paradox of Choice,’ shoppers can be categorized into two main categories: maximizers and satisficers8. Maximizers are shoppers who will only accept the ultimate, best option. They look at all of the options until they find a product that is absolutely the best choice for them. They might look at hundreds of products and won’t be satisfied until they have looked at every possible option. Satisficers, on the other hand, have a short list of criteria and will look at options only until they find the first product that meets those minimum requirements.
Think about the last time you bought a pair of shoes. If you went to the store and bought the first pair of shoes that fit the occasion and your feet, you’re probably a satisficer. If you went to the store, looked at all the options (including the sale rack), then left the store because you couldn’t find what you are looking for, then go to another store, then go home and shop online - you’re probably a maximizer.
Of course, customers have more information than ever in their shopping journeys to assist in making their decisions. The Internet forever changed many things, and shopping is one of them. Whether you’re shopping for a dress, a baby monitor, a blender, or a car - chances are you’re researching information online first (maximizers or satisfiers aside) and reading reviews. If you’re researching online for products, you can be sure your customers are researching you. For example, car customers today visit an average of only 1.6 dealerships before they make their purchase, compared to six dealerships just ten years ago9, which means they are heavily researching online before they go in. Where car shoppers used to rely on the car salesman to help them pick a car and discover which features they needed, car buyers practically already know which car they’re buying before they walk onto the lot.
60% of car research happens online10 and customers often know even more about the vehicle than the salesman! Information in the hands of customers is both democratizing for them and probably slightly terrifying for you. Businesses used to be able to frame their marketing and position their brand. In the world of the Internet, the customer has a voice in altering the public perception of your brand (more on that in Section 8, The Power of Customer Reviews and Testimonials).
For ages, marketing practice posited that customers were filtered through a ‘marketing funnel.’ Your general audience was placed at the widest, top part of the funnel, when they were made aware of your product. The next phase includes a fewer number of people who decide to become more familiar with your product, and even fewer who actually consider purchasing it. The customers who actually purchase your product are funneled out the bottom, likely never to be seen again as gravity and time pulls them further from the purchase.
The fatal flaw in this model is that it leaves no room for customer loyalty. Once customers purchase, they exit the funnel, until they are later made aware again of the product and go through the whole process again. What if there was a way to take those customers who purchase from you and keep them engaged, leading to another purchase? Today, this customer decision journey is thought of more as a never-ending process, or a Customer Loyalty Loop.
The customer loyalty loop is similar to the traditional funnel in that customers move through different phases until they ultimately purchase, but the customer is more engaged in each phase of the customer loyalty loop. Yes, they have to enter the loop, but once they’re in, your job is to keep them in the loop. The customer enters the loop by a trigger - maybe an ad or a Google Search that lands them on a page of search results.
From there they enter the active evaluation phase, where they independently seek out information about your product and compare to other brands. At this point, they are ready to make their purchase. In the traditional marketing funnel, this ends the customer journey, but today we must maintain their engagement and keep them in the customer loyalty loop. After the purchase, the customer enters the post-purchase experience phase, perhaps the most important of the loop. The experience the customer receives at this point is where you have the opportunity to create lasting customer loyalty.
The Traditional Marketing Funnel is a one-way process, which moves customers through phases of awareness, consideration, and ending with purchase. It does not take into account customer loyalty.
Source: McKinsey Quarterly11
The last touch-point of any experience is always the most important. For example, imagine you went on a two-week vacation. You had a wonderful time and are ready to return home recharged and refreshed. Then, your flight gets cancelled and you spend two days in the airport. You finally get home and they lost your bags with the souvenirs you bought. And what is the smell in that taxi home from the airport? Probably when your friends ask how your trip was, you’re going to immediately delve into the horrible experience you had getting home. Now imagine you went on just a one-week vacation (not two), but had an easy trip home and even got a free drink on the flight. You’re likely to have much better memories of that trip that was half as long as the two-week vacation that ended poorly.
Similarly, if you go out for dinner and have a bad meal, you expect the owner/manager to take the time to come to the table and ask what went wrong, listen, and try to correct the issue. You might not leave 100% happy, but you feel a lot better about the experience than if they ignored the issue altogether. If the owner listens and tries to make it right, how would you describe your dining experience at that restaurant to your friends? What if the owner ignored you, and paid no attention to your poor meal? Now how would you describe your experience to your friends?
Your customers’ experiences are the same. If they are generally happy with the product but have a bad purchase or post purchase experience, they are going to remember the bad experience, not the quality product. It goes without saying that you would never even know if they had a bad experience if you don’t ask them about it. Carefully curating your messaging to your customers after their purchase is a key strategy in promoting customer loyalty.
8 Schwartz, Barry. The Paradox of Choice. New York, Harper Collins Publishers, 2004.
9 LeBeau, Phil. “Americans rethinking how they buy cars.” CNBC Web. 26 February 2014.
10 Turner, Channell. “Dealership Statistics That Every Dealer Should Know.” CBT Automotive Network. 11 April 2019.
11 David Court, Dave Elzinga, Susan Mulder, and Ole Jørgen Vetvik. “The Customer Decision Journey.” McKinsey Quarterly, 2009. pp. 1.
It’s frustrating to see customers buy from you, then purchase from a competitor for another product or service you offer. Chances are, your customers are completely unaware that you offer other products they need. You solved one of their problems by selling them one product or service, then never developed the relationship beyond that.
This illustrates why today the customer journey is viewed as a loop, not a finite marketing funnel. In the customer loyalty loop, the conversation continues beyond the purchase. You can uncover a wealth of information by asking for customer feedback and determining your promoters and detractors.
Use your detractors to tell you what went wrong and discover how to keep them. If they have a bad experience, they will go elsewhere. 67% of customer churn is preventable if the issue is resolved during the first interaction12.
Tell your promoters about other products you offer and entice them to stay with you. Mega retailer Amazon has perfected this. We’ve all seen the ‘other customers also purchased’ section on Amazon’s checkout page. Buying a pizza pan? Then you probably need a pizza cutter and recipe book too. Knowing who your customers are, what products they need, and identifying promoters and detractors will help you to deliver engaging, relevant information to your customers, increasing customer retention and loyalty.
12 Fontanella, Clint. “8 Customer Loyalty Trends to Follow in 2019.” Hubspot online.
Getting new business is fun. If you’re a small business just starting out or if you’re a CEO of a Fortune 500 company, there is a certain thrill in attracting new customers. Humans innately prefer the adrenaline associated with new things, whether it’s clothes, cars, or customers… But, why do we get more excited about new business than we do about returning customers?
We all know the old adage - repeat business is the best business. This is one saying that has held the test of time. Repeat business is the best because it’s expensive to attract new customers. It costs up to five times as much to attract a new customer13 versus keeping an existing one. Financially, it makes much more sense to initiate customer loyalty than to spend advertising dollars informing and convincing new people to buy from you.
On the other side of the equation, customers want to be loyal to you. They invested a lot of time researching and comparing brands during the active evaluation phase of the customer loyalty loop, so they are emotionally invested at the time of purchase. What happens immediately after the purchase is the ultimate opportunity in creating customer loyalty. Continue the conversation and give them a reason to keep coming back. Go beyond the transactional purchase and create a lasting relationship with your customers.
13 FKhalid, Saleh. “Customer Acquisition Vs. Retention Costs – Statistics And Trends.” Invesp. Date unknown.
Investing in the post purchase experience will boost customer loyalty, freeing up marketing dollars and creating real growth.
Photo by Amy Hirschi on Unsplash
source: Hubspot “What’s the Difference Between Customer Satisfaction and Customer Loyalty?”
Customer reviews are comments posted by your customers on social media, review sites, and business listings like Google My Business. Typically, most review websites include a 1-5 ‘star’ rating as well as an open-ended text option for customers to write in their own words about their experience. To ensure authentic customer reviews, online review sites like Google and Facebook require the review be posted by your customer, and now most retail sites only allow verified customers to write reviews. If your customer had a good experience - great! They will probably write wonderful things about you. If they had a bad experience? Get your tissues ready because, whether you like it or not, you cannot control what someone says about you on the Internet; reviews from customers are a double-edged, but necessary, sword.
Like so many parts of our lives, the Internet has moved what were in-person conversations online for everyone to see. Reviews are like the 2019 equivalent of watercooler- talk - people hanging around talking about their experiences. ‘Hey Sue, how was your weekend?’ ‘Oh it was great, I tried a great new Italian place in my neighborhood called Luigi’s, how about you?’ ‘Ugh, I waited all day for the repairman to come fix my fridge and he never came - I’m definitely not using that company again!’
Of course, gathering online reviews is not always easy. It’s also no secret that companies have used unethical practices to get positive reviews. There is a gray (or even black) market for online reviews, where businesses purchase reviews for sales that never even existed. Mega-retailer Amazon has been cracking down for years on these review-farms, to cut down on reviews for compensation.
While these practices are obviously unethical, how about asking friends and family to buy your product and leave a review? It seems innocent, but is it really the most honest representation of your customers? Tempting as it may be to purchase positive reviews or ask your friends and family to give you a glowing review, just don’t.
The best way to ensure honest reviews is to ask your customers directly for their feedback. Encourage your customers to share their experience on Facebook, Google, and your industry-specific review platforms (e.g. Cars.com for automotive, TripAdvisor for hospitality, or Home Advisor for a range of service industries). Make it easy for your customers - include links to your social media and review sites in a follow-up email, where you thank them for their business and ask how their experience was.
Online reviews are important. Countless Google reviews, Facebook reviews, and others are posted online every day, and just as many are read. One study found that “97% say customer reviews factor into their buying decisions and that 92% of consumers hesitate to make a purchase if there are no customer reviews. 14”
14 “No online customer reviews means BIG problems in 2017.” Fan & Fuel. Date unknown.
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