What Really Turns Clients into Loyal Brand Advocates?

Brand loyalty is the ultimate goal of customer service; we want customers who buy from us to keep buying from us and waving our flag. For years now, customer service has focused on delighting customers by exceeding their expectations, catering to their every need, and solving every problem they have. But does that really build brand loyalty?

The Insignificance of Satisfaction

Treating customers with positivity and politeness is important, but it does not necessarily build brand loyalty. Courtesy is an expectation, so not being rude is really the bare minimum; customers do not see politeness as anything particularly special or worthy of loyalty. However, it does not stop there.
Research from Harvard Business Review (HBR) shows that trying to exceed expectations during customer service interactions only generates a small increase in loyalty. In other words, if you solve a customer’s problem by offering a refund, expedited shipping, or a free product, the chances they will be a repeat customer only increases slightly. Chances are, you are not even succeeding in exceeding their expectations.
HBR attributes this failing to the use of CSAT (customer satisfaction) scores in determining the customer experience. While it is fair to assume a satisfied customer will become a loyal customer, there’s actually little correlation between CSAT scores and customer loyalty.

If Not Satisfaction, Then What?

Customer Effort

Instead of satisfaction, most customers care about solving their problems quickly and easily. HBR recommends using a Customer Effort Score (CES) rather than the traditional CSAT scores. Surveyed customers listed numerous complaints like having to contact a company repeatedly, having to repeat information, and having to switch from website to phone or phone to website. These issues are more likely to drive away customers than satisfaction is to keep them.
If companies help customers fix their problems quickly and without headache, those customers are more likely to develop a sense of brand loyalty. In this model, forward resolution is key. For example, creating an FAQ page, making a quick tutorial video for fixing common problems, or suggesting tips for customers to handle common problems on their own can help customers before they need to pick up the phone. You want them to solve their problems without frustration.

Optimizing Positives (vs. Removing Negatives)

In their book The Power of Moments, Chip and Dan Heath discuss many issues related to customer experience and brand loyalty. One such item involves the benefits of elevating positives vs. eliminating negatives. In their study with Forrester Research, they found that elevating the positives was more valuable than eliminating the negatives—8.8 times more valuable, in dollar terms.
The reasons for this are twofold: first, there’s far more mildly positive customers than completely dissatisfied customers, so raising a mediocre experience into a positive one affects more people. Second, companies already spend far too much time eliminating negatives. While debugging customer portals and assuring brand quality is important, we do not want to spend all our time eradicating every single issue when customers are looking for us to improve our already-existing positives.

Making Moments That Matter

In the same book, the Heaths discuss “Moments,” referring to special experiences which stand out in someone’s mind. These make the customer feel seen and important to the brand they are buying from. Three common situations when people deserve special moments: at transitions, at milestones, and during hard times.
When you acquire a new customer, that is a transition. What are you doing to ensure their first experience with you is great? Are you giving them a special welcome? As for milestones, every company has some they can celebrate. Perhaps it is the tenth project that they have completed with your guidance or the tenth year they have been a regular. Even giving them a small acknowledgement—like a badge or a thank-you message—can make a milestone they were not even aware of into a memorable moment.
You may be wondering, however, how to generate moments through digital means. The answer lies in responsiveness, a term coined by social psychologist Harry Reis. “Responsiveness” refers to treating people with understanding, validation, and caring. Though Reis employed the term in the context of romantic relationships, we can easily extrapolate it to apply to customer service as well. When (personal or business) relationships strengthen, it is likely due to a responsive moment.
To turn a customer into a loyal brand advocate, you need to do more than just be polite and provide top-notch services. You need to make their overall experience easier, faster, and tailored to their needs. If you do that, they are much more likely to advocate for you in the long term.

What Comes Next?

Clients who appreciate your services and what you have to offer are the most likely to sing your praises and talk up your services to colleagues. By employing the strategies described above, you can give them the push they need.
To do this, you need to demonstrate to your clients that you prioritize their satisfaction and are always going above and beyond to improve their experience.
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