Every business has a Brand whether they realize it or not. Having a brand is an unavoidable consequence of being in business. A positive Brand creates Brand Loyalty. If properly managed, Brand Loyalty is a powerful source of sustained profitability. However, very few business leaders understand how to sustain Brand Loyalty in their customers. They direct their attention to the “appearance” of the brand- the marketing and advertising aspects of brand identification. They strive for a unique, recognizable “look” such as McDonald’s arches or Nike’s swoosh. The emphasis is on appearance of the Brand, not what the brand looks like in action.
However, neither advertising, nor appearance, ever created one moment of Brand Loyalty. The primary factor that influences Brand Loyalty is how employees respond to customer expectations. Regardless of the business, every customer is purchasing the same thing: “A Satisfying Emotional Experience.” Whether the business delivers a cake or a car, a house or a horse, it must deliver a Satisfying Emotional Experience if it is to create Brand Loyalty among customers!
It is the fully engaged employee’s enthusiastic effort to understand and exceed the customer’s expectations that creates the customer’s Satisfying Emotional Experience. Such experiences are habit forming; they build feelings of reliability and trust in the integrity of the Brand. A satisfying emotional experience builds a positive relationship with your customer. The importance of this relationship is especially true when things go wrong.
It is when something goes wrong that engaged employees have the greatest opportunity to create “loyal apostles.” Outspoken Brand Loyalty is created when a customer’s disappointed expectations are acknowledged and promptly met. As apostles, these customers spread “the good word” which multiplies and attracts more customers to the Brand.
Conversely, when the employees do not really care about the customer, when they are indifferent to exceeding the customer’s expectations, the customer finds it easy to go elsewhere next time. These employees mechanically perform their tasks and say “have a nice day” as the customer passively completes the transaction and leaves. Both the employee and the customer are indifferent about ever doing business together again.
When something goes wrong, these disengaged employees are indifferent and resistant to meeting the customer’s expectations. They either politely state that it is just not possible to meet the customer’s expectations or, worse, refuse to answer phone calls, letters or emails in response to the issue. When a company’s employees resist or ignore a customer’s expectations, a “terrorist” is often created. Typically, an angry customer spreads “the bad word” to over 20 people. This negative reputation quickly multiplies. No advertising budget can begin to offset this damage to the Brand.
Such damage is easily avoided. There is a line-of-sight connection between the way the management treats its frontline employees and the way the employees treat the customers. When the employees feel acknowledged and appreciated, their customers also feel acknowledged and appreciated. When the employees believe what their managers and supervisors say to them, then the customers will believe what the employees tell them. When the employees develop long-term emotional loyalty, the customers also develop long-term Brand Loyalty.
In a back handed attempt to increase Brand Loyalty by improving the customer’s experience, many companies invest in Customer Service Training. Often this money is totally wasted because management expects employees to treat customers with greater courtesy and consideration than management shows to the employees!
Relationship-Leadership principles state “All leadership is example, anything else is coercion.” This means that if management wants the customers to be treated “right,” then they must treat the employees “right.” Creating sustained Brand Loyalty is neither rocket science nor brain surgery! It is a matter of treating employees in ways that make them want to create an emotionally satisfying experience for the customer.