Eleven years ago we had the rainiest May ever. For about three weeks it rained almost every day! I’ll never forget that year for two reasons: because it was the first year in our new house…and because I got a water bill for over $400! Turns out that the pipes on our sprinkler system sprung a leak, and we were pumping hundreds of gallons of water into our yard—but we had no idea because it just blended into the soggy ground that month until the rain finally stopped. $400. I was distraught.
I called our water utility company to ask for some mercy but was flatly rejected. “We give breaks on house leaks but not on irrigation leaks,” the representative informed me flatly. “It’s our policy,” she added as if that explained everything. Oh, it’s your policy! I feel so much better. That makes an arbitrary and illogical decision totally understandable. But I kept my sarcasm to myself and stewed quietly. A letter of appeal to the company fell on equally deaf ears. In all fairness, Aqua didn’t do anything wrong—but they sure didn’t do anything right either. And if I had a choice in water service providers, they would have lost me forever.
Most businesses, unlike utilities, are elective. We do have a choice…so how we treat our people really does determine which ones come back. Customer Service means doing what people expect us to do; Customer Loyalty, on the other hand, is going beyond expectations to win people’s hearts. Often a few dollars here or a little genuine attention there can result in thousands of dollars in business to come. In short, generating loyalty not only affirms our humanity, not only honors the Golden Rule; it’s smart business.
How do you create loyalty? It’s not difficult.
- Get personal – Every time I walk into the office at M&M Auto Repairs, I get a warm "Hi Jerome. How are you today?" from Michelle. That, combined with honest service and fair prices, is enough for me to be a loyal fan.
- Get remarkable – REI is the largest outdoor retailer of gear for camping, climbing, paddling, and cycling. But it's not their square footage and rows of shininess that makes them stand out; it's their commitment to your experience. If you buy a pair of hiking boots and they hurt your feet, it doesn't matter how many miles you've put on them; they will replace. That's remarkable!
- Get generous - Kellie and I were having lunch at Lucky 32 when I asked to be tasted on a couple wines. It's standard practice, but I was surprised when the waiter returned enthusiastically with three to taste. Pleasant surprises are smart business.
- Get Consistent - Because my father was in the service, I have access to USAA for banking, insurance, and a host of financial services. Every time I call, I get an amazing blend of courtesy and competency. Every time. Which is why a Greensboro guy has a San Antonio checkbook.
Which one of the four could you take up a notch in your leadership today?
By the way, loyalty begins with your employees! Once you establish an internal culture of loyalty, it extends naturally to your external clientele. That’s what makes companies thrive.