Customer Relationship and Brand Loyalty are made for each other. If the two are not in sync, a company will lose market shares to their competitors. For this month’s eTip, we interviewed Paul Kirch, Founder and CEO of ActusMR, a best-in-class provider of management consulting dedicated to helping small and mid-sized businesses achieve greater success, on the tales of Customer Relationship and Brand Loyalty.
BMC: What is your experience in sales & marketing and how did you get started?
Kirch: I’ve been a sales professional and sales leader since 2000. After spending 10 years in operations at The Gallup Organization, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in sales. After years of serving as an outside sales professional, I was able to leverage my experience and become a sales leader, where I was responsible for managing, hiring and developing a team of outside and inside sales professionals. Today, I own a consulting agency which focuses on business health. We look at three areas of a business: sales, marketing and overall business strategy.
BMC: Customer relationship and brand loyalty – can you have one without the other?
Kirch: I’ve worked in the marketing research industry for 20 years. In that time, I’ve seen countless client “satisfaction” studies conducted. Most of the time, there is some sort of established customer relationship, though it is possible to purchase a service or a product from a company where you have no real connection.
In reality, satisfaction is not an indicator that a customer will buy from you again. Brand loyalty, however, can only occur when there’s an established connection, a relationship. Customer relationships are necessary to maintain long-term success in a business that relies on repeat business. You must earn the client’s trust and be seen as someone who is providing real value. That relationship may start with an individual, such as a sales professional, an owner, a project manager or any other client facing member of your team. Despite its roots, that relationship is ultimately associated with the company those individuals represent. Therefore, if there’s a problem with a project or the service you provide, the relationship can be in jeopardy, despite any individual relationships.
Brand loyalty is constantly tested, but at its core it starts with a relationship where the buyer trusts the seller. Give me a loyal customer over a satisfied customer any day.
Kirch: Think about your own purchasing decisions. Perhaps you are loyal to a particular restaurant. They know you by name, the food is always consistent and you always feel like the service is top notch. What happens if you show up and your favorite waiter is not there? What if the service is off that night or the food isn’t as good as you expected? You may not immediately stop going, but if that royal treatment doesn’t return, you may start to explore new places.
Have you ever stated, “That place just isn’t as good as it used to be?” Customer relationships require work if you expect loyalty. If you set expectations for your customers, you must continue to live up to those expectations and hopefully, even exceed them.
Have you ever fought to win a customer’s loyalty, making them the center of attention? After a period of time, they view you as a trusted partner or supplier. Eventually, you stop wishing for their business and you begin to expect it. That’s a dangerous point in any relationship, since the emphasis is no longer on driving loyalty.
As Valentine’s Day approaches, it reminds me that it’s not much different from a long-term relationship. We work hard to win the heart of our significant other, but then we begin to take things for granted. We stop trying to win them over and assume they’ll be there when we need them. Actually, once you start, you can’t stop focusing on loyalty or soon there is no relationship to speak of, or at least not the one you hoped for.
BMC: What are the 3 most common mistakes you have seen companies make when it comes to customer relationship and brand loyalty?
Kirch: 1) Taking the relationship for granted. Never forget how you won their loyalty.
2) Change can be a major problem when it comes to relationships and loyalty. If you’re rebranding or making large changes internally, it’s important to keep your clients informed. Sharing updates in your newsletter or other communication can help clients feel like they are a part of the process rather than a victim of it.
3) How you handle mistakes is the most critical piece. Problems can occur in any business. However, if you neglect to address them or you don’t take ownership of them, it can begin to degrade the relationship. By communicating with the client and looking for fair solutions, often there’s no long-term damage. It’s almost never about the problem, but rather how it’s addressed. As long as there isn’t a pattern of mistakes that cause a customer’s trust to waiver, it’s easy to move beyond problems if you address them head on with win-win solutions.
BMC: Last words of wisdom on customer relationship and brand loyalty.
Kirch: When it comes to brand loyalty, remember that it’s only as strong as the relationship your company has with the customer. If the relationship changes, you can expect changes in loyalty.
Let’s look at an example. You’ve built a relationship with the marketing director and she sees your firm as a partner, which drives her loyalty to you. What happens if she’s a victim of lay-offs or she leaves for a new job? If you haven’t invested in building other deep relationships within their firm, how likely is that brand loyalty to live on? As long as others see your service as valuable, you may be ok. If your contact is a decision maker and you find that person replaced with someone new, expect changes. Not only is the new person not as loyal to you, they’re often wanting to prove their value. That may mean they look at tightening budgets on vendor costs, or they are looking to make their mark by bringing in new vendors or solutions. In fact, they may have preexisting relationships with vendors from previous firms and they are loyal to them. If you have some advanced warning that change is imminent, address it proactively. Do what you can to win over others in the company, especially the new person. I’ve seen companies lose large revenue streams due to such changes.
Whenever possible, avoid a single relationship within an organization. It’s a great starting point, but it can also be your ending point if you’re not careful.
ActusMR, Inc., the Business Health Specialists™, is a best-in-class provider of management consulting dedicated to helping small and mid-sized businesses achieve greater success. Driving business health begins by looking at the sales process, marketing approach and overall business strategy of a client to find areas where adjustments can be made to help them achieve growth and sustainability. ActusMR specializes in providing the appropriate tools and direction to help clients achieve their ideal results.