Customer Loyalty: Why Your Customers Are Not Loyal

Customer loyalty advocates tend to emphasize the “wow” or “delight” factor almost to the exclusion of everything else. As a leader, you know from your own day to day experiences that there’s a lot more to customer loyalty than creating delight.

When I work with senior leaders in developing strategy, the customer (or client) service challenge is almost always front and center. Several questions arise which demand, from a strategic perspective, clear answers:

  1. Who do we serve?
  2. What are their wants, needs and expectations?
  3. How well are we meeting those wants, needs and expectations?
  4. What major gaps exist between 2 and 3 above?
  5. How can we fill those major gaps?
  6. How can we build a solid customer focused culture that will prevent or immediately rectify such gaps in the future?

Most senior teams struggle with these questions. This struggle is caused by many reasons, but foremost among them is the “sanitized” version of reality that gets fed up the line when they ask these questions within their organizations. The solution is to go to where customers are served and experience it for yourself…and prepare to be surprised!
The customer service gaps, in most instances are caused by management policies aimed at control rather than service. Now don’t get me wrong, control is essential, but many organizations over-control and under-deliver. A recent experience my wife Judy and I had helps to illustrate this point:

We had booked a flight from our hometown of Edmonton to Toronto. The flight instructions told us to check in our bags ninety minutes prior to departure (this had been recently changed from sixty minutes by the airline). We checked in online the evening beforehand, so all we had to do was drop off our bags. We were running late on that morning, but managed to make it to the drop off counter just before the ninety minute deadline. We were at the counter together, the attendant checked my bag then went to check my wife’s bag but the system shut her out…we were one minute over the ninety minute deadline for my wife’s bag!

Now a customer focused airline would allow the attendant some reasonable discretion in these matters, but no, this airline insisted that the process be delayed further by insisting that the attendant seek out a supervisor and ask for an exception. This took her over ten minutes. The supervisor, who was within earshot, said “Oh, i wish these people would just read the rules…I will make an exception this ONE time!” ┬áThe attendant returned and in a very stern voice (probably to impress her supervisor) lectured us on the rules, and finished by ordering us to “not let this sort of thing happen again, because we won’t get an exception next time!” (I got the impression we had been put on some sort of blacklist.)

Yes companies need to set down rules and policies so that the company runs efficiently. But forsaking customer experience in the name of efficiency, especially when their is a nonsensical strict adherence to the rules is just plain dumb. Give your staff enough leeway to apply the rules in a sensible, customer focused way and it will go a long way to creating satisfaction and even delight. Build this flexibility into your culture by conducting customer service workshops where senior managers play the role of a customer, using existing policies and actual customer experience scenarios…then prepare to be surprised!

Brian Ward