August 21, 2012

Value Your Loyal Customers

Customers want to feel appreciated.  Feeling appreciated creates loyalty. I am sure you can think of several examples of how businesses reward loyal customers.  For one example, I am currently on an American Airlines flight.  As a frequent flyer, I have priority access in the security screening line and boarding the plane, and was able to check my bag for free.
Large organizations such as American Airlines have well known reward programs. But what about smaller companies; what can they do to reward loyalty?  I recently had had two experiences that illustrate how organizations can be creative in their customer recognition programs.
1)     We have owned a time share in Mexico for many years with Occidental.  They notified us by mail that 2012 was our anniversary year and this entitled us to a few special perks during our trip this year.  What really impressed me however was the phone call I received a few weeks before our trip telling us they were giving us customized T-Shirts in honor of our anniversary year and wanted to purchase the correct size.  You may be thinking that T-Shirts are such a small gesture (and of course advertise their company!) but the fact they took the time to call to speak personally to us to make sure the size was correct really impressed me. They did not just rely on a mass electronic communication or a “one size fits all” approach.  I felt valued; I meant something to this company.
2)    The second story is about a local restaurant, the oldest in our town.  This is the type of casual neighborhood place where the menu never changes, the servers wear jeans and have been there forever and the hostess gives candy to “good children who eat all their food.”  They appreciate their loyal customers by greeting them as returning family and remembering their favorite food and beverages. The atmosphere resembles the theme song from the old television series CheersSometimes you want to go, where everybody knows your name, and they're always glad you came.”  We already felt valued but last week they asked if they could use our first names in a new advertisement they were creating as two of their regular customers.  Of course we knew that the advertisement will benefit the restaurant but we were still grinning and feeling special because we were asked to be a part of it.  It was like we belonged to the family.
The feeling of belonging can be very powerful.  In 1943 Abraham Maslow studied motivation and included belonging in his five levels.  Companies tap into this sense of belonging in their reward programs and the use of social media.
What can you do to make your customers feel like they belong and are valued?  What will link your customers so closely to your organization that they would not think about doing business elsewhere?  The answer lies in the type of business and customers you have and they size of your organization.  It will be different for everyone.  A good start is by recognizing your customers by name, and showing that you are very glad they are doing business with you.  

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