My grandfather was a “Buick man”; he would even refer to himself as that from time to time. All he bought were Buicks. He wouldn’t even look at other cars, even those made by the same manufacturer. If you were to ask him why, he’d say it was the way he’d always been and he had no intention of changing. Period. End of conversation.
Today, I don’t know of many people who would align themselves so closely with any brand for such a long time. People are much more willing to switch. There’s less loyalty. Why is that? A few reasons I’d suggest follow, although this is not a comprehensive list:
- Convenience: We don’t have the same job or live in the same house our entire lives, like those of earlier generations, so we tend to shop where it’s convenient for us.
- Price: Price sensitive consumers are willing to skip from store to store to find the best deal. With inflation up, expenses up, and wages down, compared to my grandfather’s day, we need to do what we can to save money.
- Service: We are a much more service oriented culture than we once were; we expect good service and won’t tolerate bad service. One negative experience and we’ll find another store to patronize.
- Choice: There are so many products on the market now – far more than in my grandfather’s day – and many of these products are not distinct enough to be memorable. (“Did I buy Crest toothpaste or Close-Up last time?”). When faced with too many choices, we turn to convenience or price as the deciding factor.
People may not be as loyal as they once were but there are still things we can do to earn what little loyalty they have:
- Know your customers by name. On its own, this technique is not going to win full customer loyalty, but when combined with some of the other techniques below, it will strengthen their loyalty.
- Membership cards with discounts after multiple purchases are one way to do it that is very popular. This may not work for all businesses, but if it can work for yours, try it.
- Don’t just try to have convenient locations for your customers (your competition is doing that, too); instead, go CRAZY for convenience: drive to pick up your customers or deliver products to their door. Offer the easiest, fastest, more reliable service possible.
- Know your niche: Forget trying to be an industry specialist. Be a niche specialist, instead. Know what other kinds of products your niche is after and help them find those products, services, and information.
- Create a sense of ownership for your customers. If your customers feel like they are involved in the business in some way, they’ll stay. Although this runs counter to what most people might think about business, consider inviting your customers to help you plan, design, and develop your business. This was effectively used by a recording label that sought advice from disk jockeys on improving the music on a particular album. When the album was finally released, the DJs had a greater sense of ownership over the album and it got greater radio play as a result.
We may never get back to the days where your customers were “lifers”, but we should try to develop a business that encourages and rewards loyalty.