Making or breaking the emotional loyalty bond
Customer loyalty is usually a very emotional thing - a feeling of being valued and recognised, or an attachment to a brand or product that has personal meaning, and businesses should adopt more emotional approaches to build loyalty to their brands, according to Dan Hill, president of emotional strategy firm Sensory Logic.
One of the main reasons that consumers seek customer service from a supplier is simply that their expectations have not been met. When this happens, Hill warns, the phenomenon of "buyer's regret" surfaces in the consumer's mind, whether it's related to the service received (or not), a product malfunction, or dissatisfaction in general.
Customer vulnerability When customers have problems with suppliers, their vulnerability becomes more apparent to them because the business appears to hold all the cards and controls what happens next. The customer's hope is that the service agent they deal with will be respectful, and will listen to their concerns and cooperate to find an acceptable solution.
And there's another emotional barrier that holds back loyalty. Customers often experience fear when they seek customer service. Will the customer service representative be obstructive, or not understand the problem? What if there's no response to an e-mailed request for help? Consumers usually don't want to get involved with fights and arguments, and nobody wants to feel as though they have no power or control over a problem situation.
The last stage in the consumer's emotional pattern - just before defecting to a competitor for good - is anger if there's no positive resolution to their problems. Factors that can trigger this stage include, for example, if the wait time at the customer service desk or telephone call centre is excessive.
Solving the problem The key to a happy and loyalty customer is to remove the fear and anger from the customer experience as quickly as possible. The longer customers are held in a queue, the more angry they will become.
Ultimately, the true goal of any customer experience strategy is happiness. The consumer feels intelligent, respected, and personally validated for making a wise choice and achieving a pleasurable and worthwhile transaction. Exceptional customer service translates directly into greater loyalty because, to the consumer, shopping isn't often about a financial transaction but instead an opportunity to fill a basic need, to improve their life, or even to seek a little extra comfort or pleasure.
When the service offered is of a higher standard than is expected, the customer feels good not only about the company and its products, but also about themselves. The desired effect is one of feeling they were smart for choosing to spend their money at that particular store.
Tickling the ego But, even more importantly, how the customer experience directly affects the consumer's feelings and self image is of paramount important, because there's nothing more intimate and customised than a person's feelings. Now more than ever, the emotional dimension of dealing with customers is going to have to be dealt with honestly and openly, because giving the customer an emotional ally at the point of customer service is critical.
Finally, of course, customers who feel validated by a good experience will also tend to share their positive experiences with friends, family and fellow shoppers, and continue to patronise the business.