Gaining long-term customer loyalty is a process and it takes time. Some results are not apparent for months. Many times it requires process changes – and sometimes complete culture changes – initiated at the highest leadership levels.
A recent study by the Temkin Group shows that many executives mistakenly see good, quality customer service as an afterthought. Bruce Temkin, Managing Partner of the Temkin Group, states that “many executives think of customer experience management as the icing on the cake of their business, believing they can slap on some good experience and everything will get better.” In reality, “customer experience improvement requires broad cultural and operational changes as part of a multi-year journey.”
If you’re ready to improve your customer loyalty, but aren’t sure where to begin, here are a few cultural and/or operational changes you can try:
Put Employees First. Before a company can have loyal customers, it must first have loyal employees who feel they are making vital contributions to the company’s overall success. When they feel like a valued part of a team, instead of simply “one of the grunts,” their positive attitude will be contagious and your customers will be infected most.
Ask Customers What They Think. You don’t know where you’re going until you know where you stand. The results can sometimes be alarming, but can give you a foundation of understanding that you can build on. Once you’re on the path to loyalty, keep asking! Getting “progress reports” from regular customers can help you gauge the success of each loyalty initiative.
Don’t Ignore Dissatisfied Customers. Customers who have a negative experience that is turned around and handled positively will often be more loyal than customers who are merely satisfied with each visit.
Remember the Human Factor. You are, after all, dealing with people here, and loyalty is as much an emotion as a behavior. A business relationship is a fine balance between the personal and the professional. Build solid relationships, but don’t take advantage of their trust. The customer may not always be right, but they should always be treated with respect.
Implement A Loyalty Rewards Program. A good loyalty program will help you understand your customers better – the who, what, when, where, why and how of their shopping habits. The benefit comes in enabling you to reward and incentivize your customers individually, encouraging them to keep coming back.
If you’ve already implemented a loyalty program, or are just getting one started, here are a few things you might want to consider:
Assign one employee with marketing responsibility and empower them to “own” the Rewards Program and oversee its ongoing implementation.
Hold regular trainings and reviews for every employee at every level. Ensure each one understands why the program is in place and what they can do to help it succeed.
Review the program initiatives and results with key management at a minimum of twice per month (initially it should be weekly).
Be flexible. Evaluate what elements are working best and be willing to make changes to those that are failing. Loyalty programs should be dynamic, adjusting to changes in their customers’ needs, the economy, etc.
According to the Temkin report, companies that achieved the highest levels of customer loyalty in 2010 include Kohl’s, Costco, eBay, Southwest Airlines and Vanguard, with Amazon.com topping the list (see image). These are big brands with positive images that most of us will recognize without any effort. They have built their corporate culture and processes around principles of customer service and have, in turn, earned our loyalty.
Which of Temkin’s “Top 20” companies have earned your loyalty? What sets them apart?
What other customer relationship practices do you see in these successful loyalty earners? How can you apply this in your own store or office?
Discover Financial Services | Source: Business Wire | April 25, 2011 – Discover card leads the credit card industry in customer brand loyalty for the 15th consecutive year, according to an annual study by the independent research firm Brand Keys, Inc.
The 2011 Brand Keys Customer Loyalty Engagement Index(SM) examined 528 brands in 79 categories to determine the degrees of loyalty that consumers exhibit toward their favorite brands.
“Receiving independent recognition of our leading customer service is a great honor,” said Carlos Minetti, president of consumer banking and operations for Discover. “Our card members remain loyal to Discover because we commit ourselves every day to making sure they get their needs met on their first call.” “Discover focuses on continually delivering new ways for our customers to be rewarded, giving them added value on their purchases and making it easier to redeem rewards in convenient ways,” said Harit Talwar, president of U.S. cards for Discover. “We listen to our card members and deliver a great customer experience in all interactions and through integrated, relevant offers.” The most recent Brand Keys research found that the attributes of “experience” and “authentic innovation” in products and services are exerting the strongest impact on customer decision-making, category expectations and brand engagement.
“Brand value has increasingly been defined not through the narrow lens of price, but in terms of the total experience that consumers have when they interact w given brand. This year’s results demonstrate that concept has truly taken hold, with virtually every category (93%) showing its greatest increase in expectations in the purchase drivers centered on attributes that most strongly impact the customers’ overall experience,” said Robert Passikoff, Brand Keys founder and president.
“Consumers are looking for their favorite brands to make a real difference — to delight them — in their lives. Consumers know the brands, know what they do, and know what they’re willing to pay for them,” said Passikoff. “They’re looking for delight and the category purchase drivers are very clear in this regard.”
Discover Financial Services (NYSE: DFS) is a direct banking and payment services company with one of the most recognized brands in U.S. financial services. Since its inception in 1986, the company has become one of the largest card issuers in the United States. The company operates the Discover card, America’s cash rewards pioneer, and offers personal and student loans, online savings accounts, certificates of deposit and money market accounts through its Discover Bank subsidiary. Its payment businesses consist of Discover Network, with millions of merchant and cash access locations; PULSE, one of the nation’s leading ATM/debit networks; and Diners Club International, a global payments network with acceptance in more than 185 countries and territories. For more information, visit www.discoverfinancial.com.
Every business should be implementing new growth strategies as the market finally picks up steam. Your CRM system can be a valuable asset if utilized properly. On the other hand, it can be a growth deterrent if mismanaged. Simply put, your CRM system should acquire, grow and retain profitable customer relationships in order to create a sustainable competitive advantage.
Without a doubt, customer loyalty is a major ingredient of profitability. Creating customer loyalty needs to be an integral part of your business strategy. Understanding your customers’ basic requirements is fundamental to ongoing business success. You must put your customer at the center of your business and direct your CRM system to manage your customer communications at a very tactical level. It will ultimately help you build value and keep the communication channels open.
Unfortunately, CRM use is too often clumsy and costly for businesses. In most cases it has become an email machine that only generates spam while providing little incentive for customers to react to the messaging.
Consider the following when evaluating your present CRM initiative:
1. Have a Plan: A clear cut, defined strategy is a must. The CRM plan you create must focus on the long term picture — improving customer retention. If you’re CRM-generated mailings, emails, calls and follow-up don’t build customer trust, strengthen the relationship or increase customer value, you missed the target.
2. Don’t Neglect Training: Get provider training on both tactical and strategic use of the CRM system for users and managers. You need to know what this investment should do for you and hold staff accountable for those results. Don’t let a rookie steer the boat.
3. Communication Relevance: Collect data from your customers that you can later use to target your marketing efforts — and then target. Marketing to five smaller groups with relevent offers may take more initial investment, but the ROI will be far greater than when you market with one mass-mail offer to your entire customer base.
4. It’s Not a One-Way Street: Expecting customers to call you as the only offered reply format from one of your communications is naive. Rather, enable them to click into your website directly from your email and schedule the service or purchase the product online. Let them touch “0” on their keypad to respond to a voicemail message. Give them a special text code for replying to an offer or communication. Track that code throughout the customer interaction.
5. Email Blasts: One-time email blasts don’t encourage repeat business or build retention. They only alienate your customer base. Consumer spending, even on sale items, will continue to be replaced by a reason-to-buy at all. Ensure that your communications all have a targeted, pertinent reason.
6. Personalize: Addressing a letter or email using “last name, first” such as Jones, Bill or some other awkward salutation tells the customer the message is computer generated. You’ve lost the customer right there. Ask customers how they want to hear from you and then be sure you set the CRM to communicate with customers in that format, whether mail, email, text, phone or print.
7. Accountability: Even a basic desktop contact management system will market your business to customers, but only if you use it! Hold your team accountable, and hold the CRM manufacturer responsible for providing campaign result accountability.
Like the romance of dating, the pursuing, wooing, and winning of customers for life is a long-term strategy. The CRM is an ideal tool for supporting this profitable goal. When you use your CRM to make it easy for customers to do business with you, you’ll not only win their business, you will earn it repeatedly.
Using these criteria to examine your CRM, how do your current programs and processes measure up? What areas need an even closer look?
What others methods have you used for evaluating your CRM’s efficacy?
NBC’s TODAY show cohost Natalie Morales discusses the success and benefits of retail loyalty programs… from the customers’ perspective.
Citing Wall Street Journal research, Morales states that three out of four Americans belong to a retail loyalty program, like DSW Rewards, CVS/pharmacy ExtraCare or Kroger Rewards. To guests Elizabeth Holmes (Wall Street Journal) and Carmen Wong Ulrich (personal finance expert and author of “The Real Cost of Living”), Morales poses the question, “Does your loyalty pay off?”
Holmes explains that in exchange for discounts and coupons, rewards members allow the retailer to track who they are, when they shop and what they buy. Retailers in turn use this information for better targeted marketing and personalized incentives, trying to get customers to come back and buy more.
Keeping loyal customers coming back “saves retailers tons of money,” says Ulrich.
Holmes agrees, explaining that the top 15% of a retailer’s customers can make up as much as half of that retailer’s sales. “The value of a loyal customer is huge,” giving the retailer incentive to, in turn, incentivize these loyal customers with discounts and coupons. “I think the more personalized the offer, the more likely you are to use it, and then the more likely they are to keep you as a customer.”
“And they’re big discounts for the consumers,” Morales states, answering her own question. “I mean, it’s worth it… Keep collecting. Use them.”
What is your favorite customer rewards program?
Why does it work for you?
What characteristics of successful rewards programs could you implement in your own business?
Nissan One to One is an incentive program the OEM offers to encourage its dealers to build retention and customer loyalty. UltraCare is a prepaid preventive maintenance program redeemable only at the issuing dealership. Ancira Nissan uses both of these programs to provide more thorough retention coverage across its customer base.
Ancira Nissan is one of a number of dealerships whose OEM now offers programs to help build loyalty and retention. Likewise, many dealers, including Ancira Nissan are augmenting these factory programs with internal or third-party retention programs like UltraCare to help promote even healthier retention.
Nissan, like many manufacturers, recognizes the need for its dealers to attract and retain more business, especially profitable service labor and parts business. Nissan calculates that 85% of customers who visit their Nissan dealer’s service department 11 times and have positive experiences will buy their next vehicle from that dealership.
Ancira Nissan is noted for customer retention. It ranks third in 3-year retention and second in 7-year retention in its region among 183 Nissan dealerships, notes General Manager Ronda French.
The dealership implemented both the Nissan One to One and MediaTrac UltraCare programs about a year ago. At the time, retention was 64% – it is now 69% – well above Nissan’s first-year program retention goal of 55%.
French says the UltraCare program has been a big part of Ancira Nissan’s overall retention growth. She attributes this to the fact that the program’s benefits are redeemable only at Ancira Nissan for future services. This strategy keeps her customers “locked” to her service department.
Ancira Nissan Service Manager Steve Quiroga notes that the dealership’s UltraCare customers return for service three to four times a year – three times as often as customers who do not purchase the program through F&I or service.
“We’re inspecting more vehicles more frequently now and we’re finding parts and components near failure,” says Quiroga. “This is business the customer probably took elsewhere before we put UltraCare in place.”
Ancira Nissan sells about 2,400 new and 1,000 used units a year – considerable units in operation to retain. “We pride ourselves on customer satisfaction,” says French. “We were one of just 32 Nissan Circle of Excellence Award winners in the nation in 2010 and the only one in San Antonio. We pride ourselves on retention and referrals, which a dealer won’t capture and sustain unless customer satisfaction is high.”
Certainly, OEM loyalty programs can help their dealers improve retention. Many dealerships, like Ancira Nissan, however, are augmenting these factory programs with non-transportable third-party or internal retention programs.
“What I like about this UltraCare program is that it ties the customers to my store. The plan’s services can be redeemed only here,” notes French. “I believe we’ll see more dealers opting for programs like this because it helps retain more customers, resulting in more parts and labor dollars for the dealership.”
What practices or programs have you discovered to boost the success of your OEM’s incentivized customer loyalty programs?