Guest blogger Trevor Booth of Capgemini UK writes about the power of word of mouth in building strong brands. What does loyalty actually mean? Every day we hear messages that tell us things like the customer is right, put yourself in the customers shoes, it’s easier to keep customers than to find them and many more. Definition of loyalty will vary depending on your experience with this topic and how you view your own customer interactions.
I talk from my experience only but I believe that customers can be viewed as friends. Some you are closer to than others, where the value you place on this friendship is directly proportional to your familiarity with that person and the experiences you share together. Treating customers as a transaction immediately removes this intimacy and implies there is no other value on that customer than money. From my own experience there are many instances where I would choose a product or service based on my past relationship with that brand or the people representing that brand. As an example if I am looking to buy a new phone, I would immediately discount brands like LG, Sony Ericsson and Motorola, not because they are poor products but because my relationship with them is not close or I simply have had no relationship at all therefore they are not in my consideration list. I would however view Nokia as an old friend, and Apple I would view as the popular new kid that I should make an effort to get to know. The point here is relationships I have formed, I tend to talk about with other people whether it’s a brand or a person. This word of mouth familiarises the person I am speaking to with the brand or person, and in turn creates a new relationship. While difficult to measure in monetary terms this is by far and away the best marketing tool a company can use, and the effectiveness of this tool is directly proportional to the experience customers receive each and every time they interact with a company. The automotive sector is an area where loyalty to a brand is core to a manufacturer’s success. Up until recently a customer would go into a dealership, find a car and then the dealer would order it from the factory and three months later their brand new car would arrive. Today customers have more brands to choose from, can buy online direct from the factory and can customise vehicles in ways never seen before. Customers also now have access to other buyer’s experiences via social media such as Twitter, and specialist blogs which strongly influence purchasing decisions. This emphasises the need to create consistently brilliant interactions for each and every customer. How do automotive companies and franchise dealerships retain customers in this highly complex and competitive environment? The answer is intimacy, the kind of intimacy you have with your close friends. A while ago I worked for a premium German automaker and one of my key focus areas was customer retention and loyalty. A combination of working with dealerships to ensure a consistent customer experience across every dealership in the country, offering events to create a community of customers, offering customised communications and responding to customer comments and complaints quickly and personally all helped contribute to not only retaining most customers but generating word of mouth sales in many cases before the buyer had even set foot in a showroom. We designed a number of exclusive ‘owner only’ events that helped foster intimacy with the client. The intimacy created by these types of exclusive customer touch points creates a community of passionate customers who will sell your products and services for you. There are many examples around the globe of brands that have similar followings; Harley Davidson, Apple and Nike are a few that come to mind. All of these brands have built loyal customers over a long period of time and the essence to this blog is that every interaction with a customer is important, but the key is to maintain the relationship to realise the true lifetime value of a customer. Not only will they sell on your behalf but they will continue to buy from you and the marketing cost to create this intimacy is negligible. “You don't earn loyalty in a day. You earn loyalty day-by-day” quote by Jeffrey Gitomer