Breaking down brand loyalty

Brand loyalty is a critical aspiration for any business. It’s how companies know they made it, that they’re household names that everyone recognizes and is familiar with. This is, of course, especially true of B2C brands, whose customers often number in the hundreds of thousands, or, in the cases of giants like Amazon and Apple, the hundreds of millions.

Inspiring brand loyalty in millions of consumers is no easy feat, yet almost every one of us has our own personal preferences for the phone we use, the places we shop, the mattresses we sleep on and the food we eat. Some of us will even go to extreme lengths to defend and promote our favorite brands.

Take some of these stats from Apple iPhone users, for example:

  • Seventy-six percent of Apple customers replace their iPhones with another iPhone.
  • Fifty-nine percent of iPhone owners say they wouldn’t consider researching other phones before purchasing their next upgrade.
  • Seventy-eight percent say they couldn’t imagine having a different phone.

The process to build a rabid, loyal base of customers is a long one, but brands that have successfully done so have a few elements in common:

Start with the product, add customer service

No company will ever inspire loyalty if it offers subpar products or products for which customers have little or no use. The primary reason Amazon has become such a dominant market force and disruptor can be attributed to its seamless online shopping experience that curates products using nifty machine learning algorithms that personalize recommendations based on past behavior and purchases. Amazon’s products fill limitless needs for the customer, and providing a streamlined shopping experience for buyers gives Amazon the upper hand in one-stop online shopping.

Next, add a healthy dose of customer service. If a company can’t quickly and easily solve a customer’s problem, what incentive does that customer have to a) continue to do business with it and b) advocate on its behalf?

Most consumers don’t expect companies to get it right every single time (though it’s certainly a bonus). Mistakes happen, whether that’s delivering a package to the wrong address or mixing up an order. The measurement of a company, in my opinion, is in how it handles its mistakes, and that’s where great customer service can play a pivotal role in engendering brand loyalty. I’ve seen plenty of reviews of B2C companies that read something like, “Company ‘X’ delivered the wrong package to my door this morning. After speaking with customer service, they’re refunding my order and sending a new package for free!”

I had a similar situation happen to me over the holidays. I ordered a vinyl record from a third party seller on Amazon, but after three weeks had received no shipping notification, no tracking number, no information whatsoever about the record’s status. I called Amazon’s customer service line, who contacted the third party seller, sent me a confirmation email of the correspondence they’d sent to the seller, and told me that, if the company failed to promptly address my concerns, they would refund my purchase and take the seller off their platform. I was satisfied that I wasn’t helpless throughout the whole process and would have some potential for recourse if my package never arrived.

Great customer service adds an element of consistency to a brand that makes it more attractive for customers, and its impact on brand perception can’t be overstated.

Insert loyalty programs here

People love rewards. It’s that simple. Whether it’s cashback on a credit card, a point system or a Prime membership that offers “freeish” two-day shipping, it gives people a reason to come back. It’s the gamification of business. If you can make shopping, spending or saving money or flying around the country fun or rewarding, your chances of creating a loyal customer just went up.

It’s worth noting, according to Forbes, that loyalty programs alone won’t suffice. It’s a step in the right direction, but if you truly want to entice a customer to keep coming back, creating a convenient and fun experience is just as important as the reward points they’re racking up.

Changing behavior

This is easier said than done, but there are instances of en masse behavior shift in different industries (think Apple’s iPhone and Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook). Changing behavior starts with having the right combination of product, experience and service. USC lists seven steps to changing behavior:

1. Interrupt the old pattern to make way for the new.

2. Create comfort such that consumer begins to appreciate the shift.

3. The imagination must be led to a new normal.

4. Shift the feeling in favor of the brand and follow it up by satisfying the critical mind.

5. When doubts begin to surface, make sure there are answers to quell them.

6. Cement the gains by taking action.

7. Change the associations.

Creating a loyal customer base doesn’t happen overnight. It takes years of releasing good products that can change how people behave or make life easier in a tangible way, consistent customer service that addresses any problems or shortcomings, and an ability to find new ways to entice the customer to engage at a level they haven’t before.

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