How the “F” Word Could Be the Key to Creating Emotional Loyalty

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By: JoAnna Brandi |

Posted on August 11, 2023

Three-part series shows how "Feelings" may be the key to emotional loyalty

In 2002 Dr. Daniel Kahneman, a professor of Psychology, won the Nobel Prize for Economics for proving that people make decisions emotionally and then justify them with logic! I can still remember the sheer joy I felt at this announcement.

By that time, I’d been teaching customer retention and loyalty for over 12 years and this new “credential” made my life a whole lot easier. Frequently I was a woman teaching in groups of almost exclusively male CEO’s and I often used the “F” word.

Feelings. I knew from the beginning that my revolutionary ideas that we should CARE about our customers and not just serve them would rustle feathers. So, I appreciated the “bench strength” that Dr. Kahneman’s work provided.

Now we understand beyond a shadow of a doubt that the way to build loyalty is to build emotional connection. Emotional connection happens through our feelings. We are after all human beings, not just humans buying!

Loyalty is important to any company because it gives it stability. If you know that 60%, 70% or 80% of your customers will come back and buy again and maybe buy more, it makes life easier. For one thing, you can plan and project better. For another you can use them as a “research team” to discover the next best thing that would tickle their fancy.

There’s a magic to loyalty – and as I like to say, it’s a lot like love.

In fact, when a customer “loves” their car company, their hairdresser, their favorite restaurant, their favorite coffee, or their favorite vitamin store the very same part of their brain that registers “love and attachment” to a human being, lights up!

Not only does it light up. Their body begins to produce dopamine when in the presence of something they “love.” Dopamine is one of the “feel good” chemicals – which, interesting enough, can be addictive.    

Their rational thinking takes a back seat to their FEELINGS (There’s that “F” word again) and they remember that it feels good to them when they interact with YOU.

Of course, much of this is going on beneath their conscious awareness – what they remember is that it “feels good” to do business with you.

I’ve always taught what I call an “Appreciating Cycle.”  

The first time a customer buys from you, you have the opportunity to make an impression – if you have what they need or want, and the price is good, and it looks like it could be easy doing business with you they will try you out. At the end of that interaction, if you’re lucky, that customer is “satisfied.”

Basically, that doesn’t mean much. (Even though for years that’s what CEOs shouted from the podium at their annual meetings “We want “Customer Satisfaction.”  I know this because I was speaking at many of these kinds of meetings, and I cringed when I heard that cry – since it was setting sights too low!)

When the customer has a good experience, they may buy again, or not. If the product, service, or experience has stood out in their mind, you may be okay.

But if you are merely average, they may come back again but they won’t exhibit some of the profitable behaviors of the loyal customer.

The example I use is the Walgreens on my corner. It’s convenient. I’m there somewhat frequently because it’s on the right side of the street on my way home. Their “geographical” strategy works. But would I recommend someone go there based on their service or the overall experience? Nope.

To them I may look like a loyal customer, but I’m anything but. I don’t recommend them; I don’t sing their praises and if I happen to be at the supermarket when I need a “drugstore item” I’m pretty likely to buy it there.

I am actually a “retained” customer. They didn’t notice, but I no longer fill prescriptions there, and there are other items I used to routinely buy there, I get somewhere else when I can.

Last week I had a sinus infection and went one night to see if I could get some relief. I couldn’t get the pharmacist to help. She had “16 prescriptions to fill.”

I’m particularly over sensitive to an over-the-counter ingredient that is contained in the drug “Sudafed” and needed some expert advice. She was too busy to deal with the customer in front of her and sent the cashier out to help me. The expensive drug she recommended was not in my budget, leaving me to interpret the other drugs to uncover the one generic that wouldn’t send me though the roof. She sent the cashier out to help, and she tried but clearing had to run each product back to the busy pharmacist. Really?

So, my point is this. Repeated buying behavior sometimes makes us think a customer is loyal but can mean there is money still left on the table.

When you have a satisfied customer AND you add value – location hours, product line you MAY end up with a RETAINED customer – and that’s good for the bottom line for sure but you can’t rely on them at all. If you continue to add value and go around what I call the Appreciating cycle, then you stand a chance of having a LOYAL customer – one who proudly acclaims “I’m a LOYAL customer.”

Now you’ve got a more sustainable business.

In my next article I’ll tell you more about 5 amazing things that happen when you create this emotional loyalty, and 5 ways to create emotional value.

Editor’s Note:

JoAnna Brandi has been speaking, writing, and consulting on customer care and helping brands create lifetime customer loyalty for over 30 years. She brings a fresh perspective to Customer Experience with practical tips to help marketers transform their CX. JoAnna is a Certified Happiness Officer and Coach. You can find her at https://returnonhappiness.com/ and https://Positiveenergizer.com. She is the author of two books on Customer Loyalty and the illustrated gift book “54 Ways to Stay Positive in a Changing, Challenging and Sometimes Negative World”.