Customer Loyalty: The Missing Link

As someone who has spent over 20 years in the Customer Relationship Management (CRM), eCRM and personalisation industries, I must admit to finding the global quest for the single right answer to the ‘customer loyalty’ conundrum both admirable and infuriating in equal measure.

Just this week in London, the Times has published a supplement on Customer Loyalty – looking at various aspects such as customer motivation, measuring customer preferences and the impact of loyalty rewards.  Of course these are all important components for brands to understand, but the single key element that has always been missing in most businesses customer loyalty strategies, is the customer himself.

What is Customer Loyalty?

For many businesses, managing customer relationships has meant little more than a means of extracting the greatest value from customers over the lifetime of the relationship. Yet, that is a very basic interpretation of something that could, and should, be much more meaningful.

If I cast my mind back to the mid to late 1990s, with the launch of Amazon driven by technology evolution and innovation, there became – seemingly overnight – an envy between brands and retailers to establish an ecommerce reputation, with the promise of real 1-1 marketing, personalisation and engagement. Despite the global phenomenon that Amazon has become, that promise of an individualised engagement has yet to become widespread across organisations .

Putting the Customer First

Today we are closer than ever to putting the customer right at the heart of ‘customer loyalty’ as we look for ways to increase engagement with our customers. Companies are finally starting to realise the three key truths that should underpin all customer engagement strategies:-

  1. Customers do want a more relevant online experience;
  2. All engagement starts with knowing who the customer is and what he or she is saying – ask ‘Who is saying what?’, rather than ‘What is being said?;
  3. Brands must make it easy for customers to engage.

There are now examples of businesses – Channel 4, Samsung, L’Occitane – that have taken customer loyalty beyond a business strategy, and made it a corporate ‘promise’.

Example of Channel 4’s corporate promise:

For me, this is a hugely exciting step – one which will truly set apart brands who sincerely want to engage with the customer, hear what each individual says and create a relevant, mutual, and personalised experience.  Indeed, an experience that will make such businesses the envy of their competitors because – and this is key – in putting each customer at the heart of the business, comes the realisation that there is no ‘one single right answer’ to customer loyalty and no single right way to engage, in the same way that our interpersonal relationships are each different and unique.

With the ground rules finally changing, this is a topic I find myself considering daily. In my next two blogs, therefore, I will first be exploring those three key tenets that form the basis for and the core of customer engagement and, secondly, considering some of those innovative businesses that are today breaking the mould and becoming the envy of their peers.