When it comes to customer loyalty, some brands seem to have a complete hold on their customer base.
You’ll never see a Starbucks groupie in the Costa Coffee line if there’s a Starbucks within 10 miles. Lululemon purists are willing to spend three times as much on the brand’s signature leggings to be part of the 'Lulu Lifestyle'. And the leading light when it comes to any customer loyalty definition, most Apple users scoff when a text comes through in a green bubble instead of a blue one.
These brands have nailed the secret to customer loyalty. Their cult following is willing to pay top whack just to be part of the club, an unofficial but incredibly effective customer loyalty program. This level of customer loyalty is difficult to achieve but worth striving for. With a loyal base of happy customers, your business is better prepared to weather the ups and downs of the market and thrive for years to come.
What is customer loyalty?
Customer loyalty is when customers reward a company with repeat business over time. In this standard customer loyalty definition, loyal buyers consistently choose to do business with a particular brand and often defend it against its competitors.
Customer loyalty entails developing a customer base so devoted to your brand that they’re willing to buy whatever you offer, no matter the price, even when there are cheaper alternatives out there. Loyal existing customers can also become brand champions, who promote your product or service to friends and family and stick by your brand even in tough times.
For loyal customer acquisition to happen, a company must create an experience that inspires buyers to return again and again. The most loyal customers are often those who feel emotionally connected to a brand.
Why does customer loyalty matter?
Building customer loyalty is vital to the long-term survival of your business. When it comes to a customer loyalty definition, customers who form an emotional connection with your brand are more likely to stick by you, helping you increase customer lifetime value and grow your revenue.
- Loyal customers will go out of their way to buy from their favourite businesses. Customer loyalty creates customers who continue to choose your brand over competitors, therefore protecting you from the distractions of the 'next big thing'.
- 75% of customers will pay more for products from companies that provide a good service experience. So once you win customers over with a great brand experience, these customer loyalty embodying buyers are unlikely to leave if you charge them more, allowing you to build and increase revenue over time.
- On the flip side, nearly half of all customers will switch to a competitor after just one bad customer service experience. Creating positive experiences for your customers builds customer loyalty. But allowing negative experiences to happen can lose them for good.
- Retaining customers is much more cost-effective than acquiring new ones. Merely a 5% increase in customer retention can boost profits by 25% to 95%.
Consumers who reward companies with their business, maybe generations of repeat business, send a message: they find consistent value in the products or services and the overall experience they have with the brand is positive. As a company, when it comes to customer loyalty there’s no greater compliment.
To earn and retain loyal fans, put customers’ needs and wants at the centre of your business. This will help you build trust and establish good relationships with your customers – both of which are key to generating customer loyalty.
How do you measure customer loyalty?
Businesses always want to increase customer loyalty. But many struggle to evaluate the success of their strategy.
Some companies measure customer loyalty by the length of time they’ve had a relationship with a customer, while others might think of customers who’ve stayed with them through tough times, like service interruptions or growing pains. Other businesses use metrics, such as customer churn rate, to gauge customer loyalty.
To get a more holistic understanding of your customers' commitment, your customer loyalty research should be both numbers-based and behaviour-based.
For the former, use your CX software to quickly access customer retention metrics:
- Customer churn rate represents the percentage of customers who stopped buying your product or using your service. Churn tells you which customers aren’t loyal, leaving you with those who are still brimming with customer loyalty.
- Recent account upgrades show you which customers are happy enough with your product or service to increase their financial commitment. Maybe they're already part of your customer loyalty programme, they’re willing to spend more money and rely more on what you’re selling, you can see they’re displaying their customer loyalty.
- Social media behaviour: Routinely search by keywords related to your brand on social media (or use social listening software) to see what customers are saying about you. Find those customer loyalty champions, customers who are consistently posting positive things about your business.
- Buying patterns: Look for customers who regularly do business with your company – they're displaying their customer loyalty by default, especially if their spending grows over time. Take Amazon Prime, for example. Initially, a new customer may use Amazon to make just a few purchases. But as their customer loyalty increases, they’ll shell out for Prime, automatically becoming part of Amazon's built-in customer loyalty programme model. So once they’re Prime members, they’ll likely shop on Amazon more often, both to justify the cost of their membership and to reap the benefits of quicker deliveries.
Behavior is just as important to track as metrics when it comes to understanding customer loyalty, though behavioral data can be harder to wrangle.
The most accurate customer loyalty insights are both quantitative and qualitative. Combining both research methods and tracking trends can give you a more comprehensive understanding of the strength of customer loyalty for your company.
How to increase customer loyalty
One thing’s for sure: customer loyalty must be nurtured constantly. It’s not something you can work on once and automate later.
According to CX leaders, many qualities we value in our personal relationships also apply to our relationships with brands. Among them: consistency, being a good listener, acting upon what you learn and being honest.
Taking a customer’s entire experience into account, the ideal formula for building customer loyalty is a mix of internal processes and emotional factors.
Reduce customer effort
One way to drive customer loyalty is by reducing customer effort. This means designing experiences that are simple to understand and navigate. A streamlined experience makes customers more likely to return.
You can make it easy to create customer loyalty by adopting an omnichannel approach to support – be available wherever (and whenever) a buyer reaches out. This also makes it simple for customers to use customer self-service when they have an issue, instead of having to wait to connect with a live agent.
Provide these 'low-effort' experiences and use customer effort score as a benchmark – it’s a better indicator of customer loyalty than a high customer satisfaction score (CSAT) or a Net Promoter Score (NPS). This was a key finding in a Corporate Executive Board (CEB) study on customer service and loyalty.
Keeping customers isn’t about creating a flawless product or service that perfectly meets their needs. It’s about providing a great user experience, making their buying choice an easy one. Strive for an easy convenient user experience to be well on your way to top-notch customer loyalty.
Provide great service
Companies known for inspiring customer loyalty with great customer service say that being proactive is key. That means anticipating your customer’s next question and helping them head off problems before they start. Excellent customer service positions your brand as a strategic partner, not a one-off problem-solver.
Unsurprisingly, going above and beyond for customers is linked to strong CSAT scores and customer loyalty. A well-trained support team can fix immediate problems, but agents who can also provide a positive service experience help build lasting partnerships. So when hiring new support agents, you should put just as much emphasis on soft skills as technical understanding. Those customer loyalty skills include developing empathy, establishing rapport and being able to connect emotionally with customers when under pressure.
Refocusing on connection rather than resolution may also mean updating your support Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). At home decor brand Magnolia, for example, 'number of tickets solved' or 'time to resolution' aren’t the best KPIs. Magnolia’s definition of success includes much more than helping customers with billing or shipping issues; when it comes to customer loyalty, it strives to make personal connections and create a community. Customers are just as likely to call for 'transactional' support as they are for 'experiential' support – sharing their experiences with agents who are trained to lend a kind ear.
Create an emotional connection
There are many ways to form a connection with your customers, but you have to start by getting them emotionally invested in your brand. A brilliant rewards-based customer loyalty programme or social media influencer promotion won’t be effective without first earning emotional buy-in.
Tap into the power of emotional data to help identify high-impact customers – those who present the most opportunity for a lasting customer loyalty relationship. A Deloitte study found that using emotional data smartly can increase customer lifetime value and turn customers into brand ambassadors. In many ways, a brand ambassador programme is the ultimate customer loyalty programme.
As in all relationships, you can’t force an emotional connection with consumers. The best way to connect with customers emotionally, and build a tacit customer loyalty programme, is to acknowledge and respect their needs at all levels of the business. Newer channels like messaging give you more options to personally connect with customers and grow customer loyalty. Customers overwhelmingly want to interact with businesses on the same messaging channels they use to talk to friends and family, so offering service on channels like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger gives your customers a more personal one-on-one experience for building emotional capital. Such emotional resonance is essential in any customer loyalty definition.
It’s also important to use customer data ethically to personalise experiences – don’t sell it for quick cash – and to keep your customers at the centre of your business and customer loyalty at the forefront. The most customer-centric brands organise their entire business model around customers’ needs (like only making products customers ask for), helping to build trust with buyers.
Once an emotional connection is there, customer loyalty programmes can be a great way to keep your buyers coming back. Take Starbucks, for example. The company’s customer loyalty programme app lets customers order ahead of time, pay using their phones and earn stars toward free drinks and gifts. Loyal customers are rewarded just for continuing their buying habits, the customer loyalty programme further deepens their ties to the business and gives them added value they can’t find from competitors.
Update your customer loyalty definition
When it comes to a fresh customer loyalty definition, remember that understanding what inspires customer loyalty isn’t just a destination – it’s an ongoing journey that’s influenced by various factors.
Earning a strong base of loyal customers depends on a company’s ability to identify and respond nimbly to such changes. Part of that process includes throwing outdated customer loyalty definitions out the window.
A traditional customer loyalty definition might be a buyer’s unwavering dedication to a single company – be it an airline, brand of shoes, or car manufacturer – for many years. But a more modern customer loyalty definition acknowledges that customers who pledge brand loyalty to several (even competing companies) are more common.
Forward-thinking businesses accept that this behaviour is completely fine. Joel Percy, former Chief Strategic Consultant at ciValue, and Julie Currie, former SVP of Retail Product Leadership at The Nielsen Company, outlined customer disloyalty – as well as what retailers can do about it – at the 2019 National Retail Federation Big Show.
“In the age of disloyalty, it is the selfless retailer who will win over customers”, Currie said. “The selfless retailer will do everything they can to meet the needs of the individual consumer, regardless of the fact that they are or aren’t a current customer.”
Also consider that customer loyalty is a two-way street between businesses and customers. Companies want loyal customers who will stay with them through the ups and downs, yet they don’t always return the favour to customers. You must remember that buyers have plenty of options. To make sure you stay on their short list, show loyalty to your customers. Responsibly use data to make customer-centric decisions, personalise customers’ marketing experiences, meet them on their support channel of choice and respect their time.
For increased customer loyalty, become your customers’ best student
Clearly, having a loyal customer base is vital for long-term business stability and success. A key step in earning that customer loyalty is doing your homework. The companies with the most dedicated customers make it their business to understand their buyers and form a connection with them. As with any relationship, this takes time, but there are steps you can take to begin establishing trust and earning customer loyalty.
Stay up-to-date on the latest customer behaviour statistics and actively ask your customers for feedback so you can better understand how they think and feel. From there, you can reevaluate your customer experience to see where you may be able to make improvements and increase customer loyalty. Investing in customer service software is also key, as it can provide even more insights into your customers and their buying habits. Get started today and you’ll soon see the benefits of studying your customers for yourself.