Actions speak louder than words, but actions are easy to misinterpret, and marketers who misunderstand the actions of customers can damage their brands’ business and marketing results. Today, many marketers are measuring what they believe to be loyalty but is actually something very different and much less. Reminding ourselves what the word “loyalty” really means can improve our brands’ marketing analytics, customer experience, and customer retention.
In my new report for marketing leaders, “How to Align Customer Experience With Marketing Channel Operations,” we explore the customer journey in the age of the empowered consumer. Today’s smart devices and social media do more than just change the ways people consume information and see ads–they also alter the way consumers consider, select, use and advocate for products and services. As a result, one of the key goals for customer experience programs must be to map a journey that identifies new ways to deliver not just satisfaction and usage but loyalty and advocacy.
Understanding the difference between a satisfied customer and a loyal one is vital if marketers are to deliver long-term success with customer experience programs. For too long, brands have labeled as “loyal” any customer who consistently buys the same product or service, but this definition has a significant flaw that can lead to customer experience mistakes: Although people demonstrate loyalty through action, consistent actions can be caused by many things other than loyalty.
Loyalty is defined (by everyone but marketers) as “a strong feeling of support or allegiance.” Loyalty, in other words, requires intent. People are not loyal because they unthinkingly repeat the same behavior; they are loyal because they actively intend to be so.
There are many reasons we may buy from the same provider that have nothing to do with loyalty. We fly with the same airline because they service the routes we need; we repeatedly shop at one grocery store because it is convenient; we stay with our bank because switching is an involved process; and we return to the same discount chain because they are cheapest. In each case, typical marketing measurement approaches would identify us as loyal customers, but we may not, in fact, be very happy and not at all loyal. If a new airline adopts our routes, a more convenient grocery store opens, bank fees shake us out of complacency or a store offers better prices, we may happily abandon old buying habits for new ones. In these examples, it is hygiene factors of convenience, price, habit or lack of options that drive actions brands may mistake for loyalty.
Loyalty is intent that drives action. You may live an hour from a theme park but still travel cross country to visit Disney World. You may walk past four restaurants that serve coffee to get to Starbucks. You may be waiting to buy the next iteration of the iPhone even though similar Android devices at lower price points are available today. And you may wait for your favorite hairdresser even if others are immediately available. Hygiene factor may contribute to loyalty, but true loyalty defeats concerns of convenience, price, and habit.
Your customer experience program should seek out and remove the dissatisfiers that may exist, but marketers must never forget that those are the table stakes and not the motivators that drive loyalty and advocacy. Achieving loyalty takes something more, and if we create the right conditions for loyalty, consumers will seek out our products regardless of price, convenience or habit.
Actions may speak louder than words, but intention speaks loudest–and marketers must be sure they understand the intent of their customers. If your brand settles for loyalty measures that merely count transactions or interactions without validating those are driven by a proactive sense of brand loyalty, it will struggle to achieve its business, marketing, and reputational goals.