Building Customer Loyalty in Times of Restraint

by Jean Marie Johnson

As leaders, many of us are paying particular attention these days to managing costs and holding expenses, as well we should. However, it's important not to lose sight of a critical investment that is always in season, regardless of the economic climate.

When change and uncertainty abound, there is a timeless strategy that can be counted on to pay long-term dividends: enhancing your human focus. Many people are feeling less “in control,” more adrift and possibly vulnerable. If there is an investment to be made now that will bear fruit later, it is in building the relationships (yes, plural!) that lead to long-term loyalty. And that starts with your employees.

 

Sobering Statistics

As service providers, we know that exceptional customer experiences don't just happen. This can be explained in part by research cited by Curt Coffman, co-author of First, Break all the Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently. Studies conducted in 2008 suggest that a disturbing 69% of employees are disengaged with their work. These employees are the least likely to create exceptional experiences for customers, to contribute to relationship loyalty. The disengaged majority knows exactly how much is required to "get the job done," or "meet the standard" to earn the right to come back to their job tomorrow, next week and next month. In other words, they know perfectly well how to demonstrate acceptable compliance. After all, this is the norm.

 

Making it Possible

Creating an exceptional or extraordinary customer experience is a matter of choice. It is a choice that originates in commitment and is expressed in accountable, yet unique and creative ways each time. The result? A brilliant orchestration of head, heart and hands that stands out against a dull backdrop of routine, average or indifferent exchanges.

As a manager and leader, you have a unique opportunity to cultivate a culture where committed employees delight in creating these "brilliant orchestrations"; these exceptional experiences that build long-term loyalty along the way. But not so fast. Remember those relationships we spoke of earlier? Well, the first relationship to attend to is the one you have with your employees. And that means understanding and embracing the fact that employee commitment is rooted in strong emotional engagement. It means “investing” in the desire to fully contribute in a meaningful way.

 

Your Employee Comes First

So what conditions create emotionally-engaged employees?  Mr. Coffman cites five that are key:

Employees:
  • are crystal clear about the outcomes desired in their role
  • feel they have  a two-way relationship with their manager
  • are being called on to use their abilities to the fullest
  • are seeing their contributions valued as credible and relevant to the goals of the organization
  • are growing and developing to new levels of success


MAGIC-al Engagement

You may have noticed that, as with MAGIC, the engagement factors are a blend of task and relationship elements. And the great news is that they are all within your control, or at least subject to your influence. As you consider the value of highly committed employees, ask yourself how you can cultivate these to enhance your employees' sense of engagement with you, with their role and with the vision and goals of your organization.  Here are a few additional suggestions:

  • Focus on how you listen…every conversation, every time
  • Be a responsible, ever-evolving model of MAGIC
  • Consistently encourage and recognize work well done
  • Passionately work to remove barriers that get in the way of creating exceptional experiences
  • Extend “responsible freedom” to your employees so that they can  creatively express “above and beyond” service to others

The payoff?  Highly engaged employees and exceptionally satisfied customers. Now that's worth investing in…all of the time.

Jean Marie Johnson is a Communico facilitator and has helped clients with their MAGIC initiatives. And for 20 years she has specialized in cultivating the customer experience as a key competitive advantage.
 
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