People often ask me what’s the best way to build customer loyalty. The answer is simple. It’s all about creating and building relationships. Even if a person is loyal to a specific brand, like Nike, for instance, there are many places to purchase Nike products. There is the Nike Store, Ted’s Army and Navy, Macy’s, Target, Walmart, etc. Of course Nike is getting the business through their retail outlets, but what makes a customer continue to buy their favorite Nike sneakers at one store over another? In my experience, it’s the person who is selling the shoes.
Whenever I travel for business or pleasure, or get to an appointment early, I stop in a coffee shop. It could be Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks or Melissa’s Bakery. I love to watch the interactions between the folks behind the counter and the customers they usually know so well. It’s “Good Morning” saying the person’s name, with a big smile, and a question about how their weekend was. Without inquiring, the barista knows how much milk, what kind of sweetener, and whether the coffee is small, medium or large. A toasted bagel with cream cheese or a croissant comes along as part of the order. Unless people are far from home, they will almost always go out of their way to see Mary, John, Amy or Brendan to buy their coffee and bagel because it’s like going to see a friend.
Why can’t every business replicate the coffee experience? Real loyalty is towards the person, not to the brand. I can almost guarantee that if your favorite clerk moves to another coffee shop down the road or even to the next town, you will follow.
Customers always have the choice of where to buy merchandise. The strongest component of loyalty is not to the brand, it’s the personal relationship. If your business is capable of replicating the coffee shop experience, long-term success is more of a certainty. Hire the right employees, allow them to naturally engage with customers and show that they care about them as people. Repeat business will be here to stay.