The Truth About Loyalty...

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Customer loyalty is precious.

In a world with ever more choices, all vying for attention, a customer has chosen you, integrated you into their life, and embraced you.

It's precious, but it's not a prize.

You've earned their loyalty, but you haven't "made" them loyal.

Rather, they've chosen you.

They've chosen you because you're useful to them in their lives. They've chosen you because they like what you stand for, and how you behave. And because they feel you appreciate them. In some small way, you've become a part of their identity.

They've chosen you, and invested in who you are, so you better be loyal in return. Otherwise, you risk creating a sense of betrayal.

I remember a focus group I was doing more than a decade ago, with loyal Tesco customers. Its purpose was to explore how Tesco could help them in financial services. But as soon as it started, one customer announced that all she was prepared to talk about was how she felt Tesco was no longer on her side. The others, heads nodding, soon joined in...

Fast-forward to 2007, a group I was doing here in the US, to explore what makes a great place to work. Two Starbucks baristas were taking part, and all they wanted to talk about was how Starbucks no longer cared about its customers...

Fortunately, both these stories had happy endings.

The entire Tesco organization recommitted to "every little helps", its customer-centered philosophy, and enjoyed 5 years of the highest comparable store sales growth it had ever seen. Howard Schultz, of course, came back to Starbucks, helped it rediscover its mojo, and put it back on the path to growth.

But both demonstrate the need to stay true to the reason you inspired customer loyalty in the first place.

Does this mean that you can never change, never innovate? Of course not. The only way you can continue to be useful to your customers is to change as they change. And what better way than to work with them. It will strengthen those bonds even more.

But there is one thing you change at your peril.

Your loyal customers have invested in what you stand for. And that in turn is driven by the values and beliefs that underpin your brand, that flow through everything you do, and drive your very body language.

To be loyal to your customers, you have to stay loyal to these values and beliefs, to stay true to who you really are.

In an ever-changing world, what could be more powerful...or more human?