When Loyal Customer Becomes the Advocate of Your Brand

by: Justine P. Castellon

I know about the headaches and hassles marketers have to deal with every day.  We invest a lot of time and money on marketing our products and brands, only to see a fraction of the many acquired customers really turn into real money-making accounts.  While customers accept product trials and brand switches, they only do so for brands with great offers – until the next one comes along.  And then they stop following your brand.  The face of customer loyalty is changing – customers stick with the brand (for a time) when a great deal is presented.  They don’t follow a brand anymore like in the good old days when brand communications are limited to few media vehicles.

So what makes a loyal customer follow a brand (till the end) in this era of cut-throat competition with multiple channels of communications?

Yes, you can bribe your way into repeat business or to reinforce a purchasing behavior but loyalty has to be earned.  However -without a doubt – a positive brand experience creates real loyal customers. Majority  of consumers who engage with a brand tend to purchase the products,  and make recommendations to their friends and family – if they are satisfied with the result.  Remember this: a satisfied customer will buy again and ask others to try and buy the same products.  That is beyond a simple task of repeat purchase resulting from good deals – you made the customer work for you by promoting your brand to others.  And that is  customer loyalty.

Loyalty among customers is also expressed  in their commitment to repurchased or support a preferred product  or service consistently, despite situational Influences and competitors’ marketing efforts for potential brand switching behavior. When a customer chooses to follow your brand,  they want something in return:  quality, better deal, service and commitment. Some even go beyond the brand attributes  - they want brand engagement and interaction.

I can only guess your next interesting question, “how to develop  a better understanding of the relationship between brand experience  and customer loyalty?”  You’ve all heard it from time to time, but I will highlight it again: it is very expensive to keep on acquiring customers (whether new or product of switching).  So every time someone presented me their marketing budget and I see the items BRAND AWARENESS and CUSTOMER ACQUISITION PROGRAM, my initial question is automatic: where’s your LOYALTY PROGRAM that goes with it?

One of the pitfalls in marketing strategy is creating customer acquisition program without a corresponding loyalty program.  What are you going to do with those customers if you don’t keep and utilize them?

In order  to keep these newly acquired customers – resulting from numerous marketing expenditures (from brand  awareness campaigns to customer trials) -  and utilize them in some future transactions, you need to develop relationships with them that result in repeat business, referrals, profitable and value relationship.

Live and breathe with your customers . . . and find out what makes them tick.
Customer communication is an area of increasing importance of today’s marketing activities,  particularly as organizations move toward attempts to communicate a complex and intangible  messages as part of brand management strategies. Before you release that marketing communication to potential customers, ask yourself first: Will they really want to hear what my message is saying? Am I in tune with my target customers’ wavelength? And the only way you can answer those questions is to immerse yourself with them. You’ve got to realign your focus to what they’re buying instead of what we we’re selling. You need to dig deeper and go beyond the product, service and solutions: how your brand enable them to achieve something they couldn’t do before. It’s about “ why that’s important to them?”

Your brand survival depends on meeting customers’ needs and wants, through appropriate and comprehensive understanding of customer behaviour. Assess the relative importance of the known prototypes to customer loyalty behavior.  Simultaneously measure the relative influences  of satisfaction, value, resistance to change, brand affect, trust on perception of customer towards the brand, and the insight as to the relative important to the formation of customer loyalty. And how do you go about getting all these insights? The best way to find out what your customers’ wants and needs  is to ask them. There are many ways to ask them about their  product satisfaction, how they perceive your company, and the service they received from you. You can ask them thru different types of surveys:

  • Face-to-face -  ask them as they are about to walk out of your store or during the process of examining your product.
  • Phone-to-phone – call them on the phone (if you acquire their contact numbers legitimately and with permission) , and ask how satisfied they are in visiting your store or using your product or service.
  • Digital survey – since traditional mail survey is becoming dinosaur, email them the  a customer satisfaction survey, but, be careful to not violate Spam laws.
  • Focus group discussion – invite them to participate in the customer symposium

When you communicate with your customers, what you ask them is important. Likewise,  how, when , and how often you ask these questions are also important. The most important thing is what you do with their answers.

Create winning customer interactions
Most savvy marketers recognize that customers buy because of the promise of delivering a great product and  wonderful experience that goes with  buying it. So remember this is not a one-time –big-time-deal.  Expect that customers will interact with you after the sales – whether she’s happy with your brand or not.  Customers will abandon poorly managed customer support, badly  designed or non-intuitive Web sites, or they  will lose patience with errors in billing or ordering processes generated from your accounting system. It’s essential that customer interactions must be efficient, streamlined and personal across your entire organization – from your front-end to back end support.

Develop the right tools (using technology), and business processes (systems and methods) in place to manage increasing customer demands. And provide a consistent, relevant customer experience across all possible communication channels— your retail store frontliners, call center support, websites and other digital media.

Remember, the manners on how you manage them when they make contact with you will determine if they will opt for the next buy or dump or brand all the way to trash bin.  It’s important to manage customers in a holistic way.

Every interaction with customers (or lack of it) tells them how much they are truly valued; and validates if promises made to them (by the brand) will be delivered or not.

Raise the bar of customer loyalty program
Identify your best customers and drive their most profitable behaviour –  what motivates their “best” behavior.  In order to be effective, your  loyalty program’s structure, reward offerings, and communications must be relevant and specific to your customers, based on their attitudes, behaviors, and demographics.

Loyalty reward program characteristics are essential to creating a reward program that will attract, retain, and grow your best customers:

  • Quality Rewards: match the quality of the reward to the expected quantity of the desired transactions.  Offer redemption choices and present a variety of reward items within a volume tier.
  • Cash Value: establish the value of a reward as a percentage of what the customer spends to earn the reward. If you decide to spend 1% of the customers’ purchase value, strictly allocate PhP 44 (approx. $1) to every PhP4,400 ($100) for the reward.
  • Perceived Value:  this is in relation to the cash value – work on the perceived value of rewards  and do not highlight the percentage value in all your communications. The total reward mix should be perceived as having high value.
  • Aspirational Value: offer rewards that motivate customers to change their behavior and increase spending to reach a certain level of rewards. Take note of the traditional Starbucks Planner. Coffee drinks increase their transactions because of their desire to acquire a lifestyle organizer/planner.
  • Convenience: make it easy for the customer to redeem, obtain, or use their incentive once they earned the rewards.
  • Achievable: create a perception that the reward level is attainable.
  • Exclusive:  offer unique and difficult to duplicate reward mix. Remember, your customers have a variety of rewards programs (from your competitors) to choose from and you want yours to stand out.
  • Communication: develop effective program messaging  that are  relevant to each targeted customers based their attitudes, values & lifestyle,  preferences, and intent.

And the most important,  study the financial impact of launching your program before implementing it.  A potentially greater and longer lasting risk is dramatically changing or ending a loyalty program. Once this  has been offered to your customers, it is difficult to take it away if it isn’t meeting its objectives, without some degree of negative reaction.

Engage customers . . . to your business and brand
Every action your business or company takes creates statement  how you value customers – from  a simple task of answering customer inquiries  to the most complex product installation or after service.

In order to create great experiences for your customers,  it is imperative that you know what they want to feel, think and do at every stage of the relationship. Long-term customer relationships management welcome customers in their organization – including the unsatisfied ones.  They can be your greatest resource for innovation and customer engagement.  They must  be pursued aggressively to find out how to create great experiences and value with the “not-customers”.  Business processes  and system must enable brand promises to be realized as customer experiences. Make constant communications with your customers to find ways to ensure operational excellence is achieved and provide opportunities to learn about customers strategic goals. Venture into common shared value and engage customer and your organization to achieve a state of mutual value creation.

In summary,  excellent product and affordable price are no longer good enough reasons for customers to return.  Yes, these are the basics for happy customers, but no guarantee for customer loyalty. Smooth business transactions,  customer satisfaction, and overall brand experience play a big role in surpassing customer expectations.

So don’t bury your head in the sand in making your brand profitable.  Use the most effective tools that you already bought  – your customers.  Leave a lasting and positive impression and we have to go beyond of what a customer expects when doing business with us. Establishing a merchant-customer relationship built on quality of product or service, fair pricing, competence and trust, is fundamental for a thriving business and the most cost-effective way to grow sales. Customers will not only return, but also become messengers by promoting our businesses, simply by telling others about the positive experience.

The next time you want to impress your client (if you’re a brand agency) or your management, on your annual ROMI (return on marketing investment) reporting, start focusing your branding existence to this single entity: CUSTOMER.

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