There is no doubt that instilling loyalty in your customers can represent significant gains for a business.

Retaining existing customers is much more cost effective than acquiring new ones, with repeat customers reportedly spending around 30 percent more than new and being much more likely to try new products from a brand already known to them.

They also become brand advocates, telling friends and family about their positive experience, promoting your brand through the power of word of mouth. But why is it that some brands seem to attract a loyal band of customers who repeatedly go back for more while others struggle to harness customer commitment?

Making emotional connections

The answer can be found in the emotional relationship customers hold with a brand. In a world where goods and services are freely available at competitive prices, brands need to identify alternate methods to truly engage customers and often it is the overall experience that can drive loyalty. A 2013 Walker report stated that by 2020, Customer Experience will overtake price and product as the key differentiator between brands and now just two years from 2020, trends indicate this was an accurate prediction.

Adopting a customer-centric culture certainly plays a central role in cultivating customer loyalty to a brand. In the race to harness the competitive advantage, more and more businesses are realising the potential benefits of enhanced Customer Experience and are trying various strategies aimed at building coveted brand loyalty.

Short-term wins

Loyalty isn’t just about people liking your product or one-time service; it is built gradually over time by relating to individuals needs and building emotional connections to a brand. The use of special promotions, flash sales, sign-up offers, and discounts is a great way of attracting new customers and can certainly drive a peak in sales in the short-term but will never really secure long-term commitment from customers.

Many consumers will avail of the initial offer never to return to the brand again so converting those one-time users into long-term advocates is critical in the bid for customer loyalty. The challenge for the brand is to make the experience so positive and memorable that the consumer automatically reaches for the same experience the next time they shop. It’s a small window of opportunity so the experience must be maximised on the first visit.

Of course, all sales of goods and services involve a transactional process; the reason for the visit. However, the key to making them come back for more lies in the way the experience makes the consumer feel and this is where building an emotional connection is so important.

Transaction-based loyalty programs can obviously offer savings or financial rewards which can be attractive, however these are rarely the main drivers of customer loyalty. In a competitive world where virtually every business offers some version of a loyalty program, customers have raised their expectations of the overall service offering and they demand more from their chosen providers.

The importance of trust

Long-term relationships in any form are built through trust and consistency. It makes sense that a customer who trusts a company will want to deal with it again and again; if consumers trust that a brand cares about them and will consistently deliver a superior service every time, they will come back for more.

A Customer Thermometer survey conducted across 1,000 people in the United States found that an incredible 65 percent of those surveyed felt a connection to a brand that they felt cared about them. The same study also revealed that 57 percent of those studied noted trust as an important ingredient in securing their commitment to a brand. There is no doubt that human emotional connections have the power to drive the strongest and the longest lasting relationships.

Enhancing the overall experience

Consumers want tailored customer experiences because it makes them feel appreciated and connected to the brand. The traditional view of customer service is a face-to-face interaction, but in a world of online-based retail and communication, brand anonymity is common and can pose a challenge as often the consumer has no physical interaction with brand representatives.

The challenge is for businesses to embrace technology and the digital age by finding new and innovative ways to enhance Customer Experience through the channels available whilst complementing these interactions with a human interface where appropriate.

Many customers wish to interact with a human, but many others prefer to address simple issues independently and technology offers this opportunity. Whatever the means of the customer interaction, the most important part is how the experience makes the customer feel. The feel-good factor is what makes customers come back for more.

Online retail giant Amazon continues to rank number one in the world for brand loyalty despite the fact that most sales are completed without any contact with a human being. Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos attributes this success to the application of customer centricity in every part of the business.

His philosophy is to care for the customer through listening and fully understanding the person making the purchase. Amazon not only reacts to customer complaints and feedback effectively, but proactively addresses issues before the customer has time to become frustrated. The customer-centric approach is designed to continually surprise customers with relentless positive experience through continual innovation.

Providing quality products at competitive prices is obviously a known formula for attracting and retaining customers. However, it is only by exceeding expectations and building emotional connections which make people feel good that true customer loyalty is born.

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