Loyalty? Don't Make Me laugh

I recently had a tiff with my security company, and was determined to drop them for another competitor. When they realised I was serious, they offered me a 50% discount on my monthly fee, and said they hoped this was a sufficient sign of their regret at what had happened. I accepted their offer – and still feel bad that I didn’t have the courage to follow through with my threat.

When you think about loyalty – whether it is loyalty to your family, friends, religion, your country, a political party, your old school or college, a sports team, a band or an orchestra, and, of course to the companies that you deal with – you will probably be able to categorise this loyalty into two broad possibilities.

First is the type of loyalty that is fickle and not truly deep. It is the loyalty of convenience, or of nostalgia, or maybe just the loyalty of habit. It’s the kind of loyalty where you may look around at alternatives, but you probably won’t really change. Why? Because if you change it might involve some inconvenience or maybe even some risk. With my security company, my first reaction was to hate myself for my greed, then I was angry because I realised how I’d been ripped off over all the years of high premiums, and finally, I thought that if they knew I cancelled the deal, they would arrange gangsters to come and attack and rob me in my home. (Maybe I’ve been watching too much reality TV.)

Changing suppliers often means that you have to spend valuable time in the switch. For example, switching banks or mobile companies or airlines is about first having to wade through the administrative nightmare, (think about how we have to jump through hoops just to prove that we still lived where we’ve lived for the last twenty eight years,) and then having to re-discover how it all works again. (I believe that Apple has great software, but I’m not going to learn how to use it from scratch. I avoid even upgrading my Microsoft stuff until everyone else has and I can’t read their stuff anymore.)

You may need to establish new relationships from scratch – a whole new bunch of people who know nothing about you, nor you anything about them. The trust and the history needs to be built from scratch, (my new bank doesn’t care about my previous credit history, nor that I have financed 14 vehicles and 3 properties elsewhere,) and you may in fact lose all the rewards that you have accumulated thus far, (what happens to all those SAA Voyager miles and eBucks if you terminate the relationship?) You may have to learn a whole new set of skills, and redo or reload all the stuff that you have already done – yes, all 6500 names in your contact list.

You may have to defend your decision to move your loyalty to your close people, and even to the managers of the new business that wants your custom. You may fear the uncertainty of how it will all work out, and the real risk of mistakes you may make as you carefully pick your way along the unknown hazards. So you say to yourself, “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t,” and stick with the company even though you suspect that there is something better out there.

Companies in all industries today, through their marketing practices and “customer loyalty programmes,” are getting better and better at attracting this kind of carrot-and-stick loyalty. They use rewards on the one hand to bribe and attract customers into staying, and threats and negative consequences to prevent even unhappy customers from leaving. This kind of coercion is not going to work for much longer, because customers are starting to see that there is a price to be paid for participating, and because it somehow cheapens the relationship.

The true test of customer loyalty is to ask one simple question: If the incentives to stay and the barriers to switching were removed, would this customer still remain a customer? The answer in most cases is probably “No.” Your indifferent customers will often be tempted to look elsewhere, again and again, and just for the sake of it. But also because they don’t want to lose out.

And that means that you have to scramble about trying to find more and more ways to stop them from leaving, and in some cases these will be resented and resisted by your customers. In fact, what may have been attractive at the beginning is now seen as a hassle, and they may become quite cynical and irritated by it all. Certainly they feel trapped like hostages, and that doesn’t augur well for good relationships with them.
You see, the second kind of loyalty is the genuine, deep-down-in-the-heart loyalty. It’s the kind of loyalty that says: “I don’t care what else is on offer – even if it’s better.” It’s the kind of loyalty that is felt emotionally, not intellectually, and it sometimes emerges from a need to repay a favour, or from a sense of obligation. It’s the kind of loyalty that lasts a lifetime.

There is a sense of love and awe, and that is displayed by devotion and sacrifice – your devotion and sacrifice earns their devotion and sacrifice. They will experience delight and surprise at the smallest things, and tell everyone about it. They feel like they are part of your “family” or “club,” and they define and identify themselves by their relationship with you – “I’m a United fan.” They stick with you through thick and thin, not just when you are winning, and not only when they are getting a good deal.
It is your challenge to do the things that you have to do to create this type of loyalty. If you don’t know how, look to your family and friends, your religion, your country, your political party, your old school or college, your sports team, your favourite band or orchestra…


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