Part One of a Six-Part Series – Establishing Loyalty

Making your business important to its customers.

As we move into a new year, a noble resolution for every business is raising the loyalty bar. Making your business your customers’ unarguable first choice.

But how? It’s simpler than you think. The two best ways to endear your business to customers are: (1) to help them over a fear or (2) to make them feel better about themselves. Today, more than ever before, these two tactics are your highest-voltage power tools for brand support and a continually vibrant top line.

Just think about it. What is it that makes you choose one dry cleaner over another? My hunch? It’s because the business you prefer has gotten you over a fear that your favorite suit or dress might not be ready when you need it for that big meeting or cocktail party. Or the cleaner has assuaged your worry that your wardrobe piece might be damaged when it’s out of your possession. Something as simple as the clerk commenting on the great quality of the dress you’re handing over or remembering to ask about how you felt in the jacket at the party separates this dry cleaner by miles from the one with the clerk who presents the receipt without ever looking up.

But this approach … of matching the experience your business delivers to the things your customers care about most, whether those are directly related, tangentially related, or unrelated to what you actually sell … is not yet popular among marketers or businesspeople because it involves right-brain thinking. It’s not logical and neatly measurable. It’s also contrary to nearly everything that’s made them successful in the past. But societal patterns and cultural norms are changing, and they’re changing fast. Given our immediate access to everything we want to know and the realities of our “new normal” global economy, business as usual is passing away. In its wake is rising a business environment in which the specific attributes of what people buy are less meaningful in their purchasing decisions than the experiences they have when buying.

So, what does this mean for the person in the Job at the Top? It means rethinking every aspect of your business according to new standards. Sure, you’ve got to continue offering great products and services. But that is no longer sufficient. Wrapped around what you sell must be your obsession with what it feels like to do business with you, whether you are helping customers over their fears or helping them feel better about themselves.

Do you ever find yourself wondering why your customer base and your top line have eroded? They’ve slipped even though you’ve added new items, increased your marketing efforts, and lowered prices. Despite the economic situation, most of the customers you’ve lost are still buying from someone; the likelihood is high that they’ve gone to someone who is better attuned to the emotional content of the relationship they seek than you are.

At the nationwide automobile collision repair franchise, CARSTAR, which I grew aggressively through the mid-1990s, the top line turned dramatically the moment we stopped thinking about our business as fixing dents and paint and started thinking of it as a business that helped people get through crises in their lives. This business was about how people could get their kids to school, avoid being shortchanged by their insurance companies, and find someone to teach their teenagers to be safe, accident-free drivers. In three years we doubled the franchise base, generated significant earnings, and sold the company for an outstanding multiple of past earnings.

How did we accomplish such a dramatic turnaround? Simply by understanding what was really on the minds of our customers and reorienting the business to calm their fears and help them feel better about themselves at a time of uncertainty.

Back to our dry cleaning example: my own choice of dry cleaner has nothing to do with the quality or the price of cleaning. All of the local dry cleaning establishments offer about the same level of quality and cost. My preference for Patriot Cleaners has everything to do with a friendly counter person; with the fresh, high-quality coffee at the ready; with a pleasant place to sit and chat about town issues; with an owner who’s well informed; and with a staff that has the zeal to rush a job and deliver to my home if I need it. This is a business my friends support, and one that supports charities I admire. If those aspects of the customer experience changed, so would my choice.

So, what does this mean for you? Spend some quiet time every week, say 30 minutes, alone with no distractions answering the following question: How can you make your business as important to your customers as Patriot Cleaners is to me? Or as your unarguable first choice for service is to you?