Tag Archives: customer loyalty

4 Questions You Should be Asking Your Customers

photo courtesy of bluebetty @ sxc.huI walked into Gart Sports the other day and was greeted by a nice young women who looked like she was probably middle level store management. “Good morning sir. Can we help you find anything today?”

“I think I have it covered”, was my blithe reply.

A few minutes later I was back at the front of the store, on my way out, obviously empty handed. Same woman, same position. “Did you find everything ok sir?”

“Why yes, yes I did. Thank-you”

You see, I had only stopped in there because I really, REALLY had to pee. So, in the end, I didn’t need help finding the bathroom and I DID find it, just fine. The trouble was the nice young lady at the front had politely asked the wrong questions.

Allow me to suggest four questions that are the RIGHT questions. You might not ask these exactly as phrased but these are the question you want to have answered by your customers:

1. What are you trying to accomplish?
I walked into Home Depot this afternoon looking for a couple parts to allow me to use my compressor to blow out our sprinklers. Spring is NOT the time to be blowing out the sprinklers but we had tried to start ours up and run into a couple problems so we thought we might blow them out and start from scratch.

“What are you looking for?” Gets the answer that I am looking for parts. You, as the Home Depot guy, will be able to help me find parts.

“What are you trying to accomplish” Gets an entirely different, much more detailed answer. Home Depot guy now has a chance to provide real service in helping me find the right solution to the right problem.

Customers do this all the time. They come up with a solution in their head and ask for the parts to create THAT solution. “I need a button here” or “I need a widget that does x”. When you ask them what they’re trying to accomplish it opens up whole new avenues for potentially serving them well and providing value.

2. What else can we help you solve?
This again is a subtle twist on the old “Can we help you find anything else?”

Last summer I was in a running store getting a new pair of shoes. As I was getting my shoes and a couple packs of gel I looked around to see if they had any race belts. They didn’t. No biggie. Didn’t really think they would.

“Can we help you find anything else? ”  No, I can see the entire store from here and you don’t have what I’m looking for.

“Can we help you solve anything else? ” Well, I still need a race belt. And right THERE you have a chance to direct me to someplace that carries them thus providing service that will make me want to bring my business back again.

3. How are we doing?
I don’t mean the ol’ chummy, “Hey buddy how we doin’?” I mean “How are we doing at meeting your needs?”

Restaurants are the classic example of coming close on this one. What you typically get is “How is everything tasting this evening?” Well, the food may taste fine but it may have taken WAY to long to get to the table or the service may be sloppy in general or the drink menu may be too limiting, any one of those things may outweigh the taste of the food in terms of whether I’ll be back.

But ask “How are we doing?” and all of those issues are in play. WARNING: Don’t ask this one unless you’re ready to hear the answer.

4. How can we get in touch with you?

You may have to give something in return for a customer’s contact information, newsletter, white paper, coupons, but it is worth it because it gives you the chance to maintain the connection that occurs from the first transaction. You know, the whole bird in the hand worth two in the bush thing…

If a customers is looking to buy from you they’re looking to solve a problem or meet a need. Whether you’re trying to get them to buy shoes, schedule lawn care, or attend your church you need to know what need they’re looking to have met. You need to know if you can help beyond that one need. You need to know how you’re doing at meetings those needs. And you need to know how to get in touch with them again.

What are some other examples of the wrong questions that businesses ask?

4 Reasons to Recognize Milestones

Today we reached the end of an era in the Fletcher household…we’ve most likely seen our last minivan.

With the price of gas continuing to rocket upward we traded in ol’ blue for a used Honda Civic Hybrid.  The small car payment and a month’s gas will still cost us less than we were paying per month for gas in ol’ blue. I have to admit I’m kinda sad.

I’ve been thinking about random milestones all day.

Way back at the turn of the century, funny when you put it that way, I was working as the Director of eCommerce Marketing at Corporate Express. During my tenure in that position we saw a pretty cool milestone heading our direction. We knew, probably 4 weeks out, that we were going to hit our first million dollar sales day on our eCommerce site.

As the marketing director I wanted to recognize the efforts of everyone who had made the site a success as well as generate excitement and so we started a pool to see who could pick not only the right day, but closest to the right dollar amount.

Our final sales numbers from the previous day typically came in between 10 and noon and on the day we got the news that we’d hit the mark we went crazy. Most of us has seen the first day the site launched, bringing in I believe a total of five dollars, and here we were at a million dollars in a single day!

We sent announcements out to our field offices congratulating the sales folks and throughout headquarters lauding the team that had built and maintained the site. By 3:30 it was time to really celebrate so I invited the entire eCommerce team to happy hour. Several VP’s came over to join in the fun and the CEO even came by for a beer and some congratulatory words.

As a corporate leader I learned the importance of recognizing milestones that day.

1. It honors accomplishment
Our guys were beaming that day from the newest support person to the senior most developer. They knew and understood anew that their work had created significant value for the organization.

2. It measures success
Milestones are stakes in the ground that are tangible measure of success, a goal line crossed. It’s one thing to say, “good job”. It’s another thing to have a measure of just how good.

3. It shows engagement
For a leader to pause and recognize a significant milestone shows that they’re engaged in the business and the efforts of their people. Celebrating even in small ways says more than just “attaboy” it says, “we’re in this together.”

4. It inspires effort
We hadn’t finished even the first round of libations before people were asking when we’d hit a 2 million dollar day. We didn’t dwell there, but we had already started setting our sites on what it would take to get to the next level.

Whether you’re running an organization, leading a family, or building customer loyalty recognizing milestones along the way helps inspire your people to follow your lead and strive for the next level.

What milestones do you have on the horizon? How do you think they ought to be celebrated and, more importantly, with whom?

Donor Loyalty: it IS about them.

Back when my son Nathan was a high school sophomore I had the chance to speak to his marketing class. At the time I was working for Compassion International, a non-profit child development organization.

“If you’re selling a product or service you’re asking someone to give you money in exchange for something that will either solve a problem or meet a need that they have.” I told them, “But in a non-profit world how do you convince someone to give you money to solve a problem for someone they’ll never meet in a place they’ll never visit?”

After a moment’s puzzled silence a kid half way back raised his hand and said, “You only have two options, shame or guilt.”

Wise kid.

Watch commercials on TV for non-profit organizations. Whether they are asking you to save children or animals or the rain forest the language is all about the same. The truth of the matter is that shame and guilt work to get peoples attention but over the long term the effects of this type of messaging wilt rapidly like a balloon sitting too long in the sun.

Non-profits then find themselves torn. They want to stay true to the cause they serve. “It’s about the _______” (fill in the blank) But at the end of the day without the donor the _______ don’t get served. It’s almost a chicken and egg problem with each unassigned dollar that comes in. Do they work to honor the donors or do they look to expand on the cause?

I’ve come to believe that this is short term thinking. What donors want, after getting over the initial shame and guilt, is to feel they’re making a real, tangible, and measurable impact. They want to know they’re making a difference.

Every penny that gets redirected into the cause but which also results in less ability to report back to a donor makes it more difficult to keep donors. Helping donors feel their impact greases the skids on getting the next donation.

The conundrum is that when it comes to REALLY large donors, people who get to find themselves referred to as philanthropists, is IS about the donor. The news is all about the latest cause behind which they’ve put their money.

So why can’t we build in the mechanisms to treat them all that way?

What are the causes to which you donate? Do they make you feel like you’re making a difference? How?

5 Examples of Loyalty Building Activity

Continuing on the theme of building loyal customers I’d like to look at 5 examples of the type of activities that let your customers understand that they are known, valued, and cared for.


1. Knowing who they are.
I worked for a VERY short time in the car selling business…hated it. One of the things that REALLY bugged me was that we’d collect all the pertinent customer data, name, address, phone number, etc…and then, if we’d convinced them to purchase a vehicle, they’d go into the finance office where the first thing they were asked to provide was their name, address, and phone number. LAME, LAME, LAME…but I don’t feel strongly about that. pffft

I recently rented a very expensive camera lens for the fourth time from the same vendor who has also, by the way, done maintenance work on a camera body of mine. I have had to provide that basic info every time as though I had never been in their store. If I had another choice to rent from I would give them a try in a heart beat.

2. Knowing what they’ve done with you.
I’m becoming a fan of Discount Tire. Every time I go in the look me up in “the system” and quickly ask something akin to, “Great Mr. Fletcher which car today? The Altima, the Toyota Van, or the MR2?” Last time that was followed with, “Shouldn’t be the Altima, looks like you got a full set six months ago at our Arapahoe store.” (60 miles and six months away in Denver.)

It’s a simple thing but it says, “We know you’ve done business with us in the past, we know what it was, and we value that.”

3. Knowing what they need.
I started my corporate career in B2B eCommerce with Corporate Express.  This was way back in the day when people were still saying the internet might just be a fad. We had customers ordering paper and copier toner cartridges from us on a very regular basis. The info we had made it possible for us to proactively suggest orders.

“Based on the timing of your order history it looks like you may be due for a couple toner cartridges, can we order up a couple for you?”

This is non-intrusive, provides a reminder when someone may be otherwise swamped and says, “hey, can we provide a hand here based on what we know about you?”

4. Creating a sense of belonging.
I’m really surprised that more car dealers don’t do this. When I have had a question about my Nissan Altima or my Toyota MR2 I go online and look for car enthusiast forums. I typically find the answer in a heart beat. If I were one of those companies I would be the one creating the forum.

When I was a product manager at Oracle we found HUGE value in creating and monitoring user groups. We knew what our customers liked and didn’t like and were able to be a part of the conversation and in turn they felt like they had a voice. Create the forum and you get to help guide the conversation.

5. Offering based on knowing.
I received two offers in email today. One from Disney for some children’s films and one from The Fall Frenzy Triathlon reminding me that early bird registration was opening next week AND referencing my age group. Both offers knew me as a past customer but only one knew who I was and added that to the offer. The other, sadly because I am a hug Disney fan, didn’t recognize that my kids, whose data they have, are all much older than that.

What are you doing today to build loyalty amongst your customers, followers, readers?

3 Strategies for Developing Loyalty by Promoting Your Brand

I do believe that the first rewards program to which I was ever subjected was in Sunday school somewhere around second grade. We knew if we came prepared with our memory verse each week for enough weeks in a row we’d earn the reward. Pencils, stickers, small toys, whatever it was we wanted it.

The trouble was we always forgot about it until Sunday morning. Mom would ask in the car en route to church if we had our verse memorized and the scramble would begin.

This is really no different than the challenge faced by most loyalty programs today. They’re looking for repeat buying behavior but they have to find a way to stay top of mind so that you’re not scrambling to remember your card, or your coupon, or you membership number when you’re already out the door.

Granted a lot of that trouble is solved with electronic record keeping, I don’t think I have used my Block Buster card at the video store in years, but the challenge remains: How do you keep your brand top of mind for your customers in a way that promotes easy loyalty?

Allow me to suggest three strategies for building *brand loyalty:

1. Offer, don’t Overwhelm
Don’t think that just throwing your name out there time after time after time will build loyalty. It WILL build name awareness sure, but it might build annoyance as well.  Customer Loyalty assumes a customer exists and that you’d like them to be loyal, this is different than pure acquisition.

You offer them the opportunity to self-identify and connect, that’s your loyalty card, or your buy 5 and get the sixth free, or your “subscribe to my blog via”. Now they’re bought in. Don’t feel you need to keep throwing your name at them so they’ll remember you. Move to strategy #2

2. Serve, don’t Suffocate
Now that your customers have self identified find opportunities to serve them. That doesn’t mean sending them a 50% off sales flyer every other week. It means providing value that fosters connection.

In the blogosphere Michael Hyatt is a master at this. If you subscribe to Michael’s blog and follow him on Twitter, as I do, you’ll find that he doesn’t inundate with you email updates about new posts. What he DOES do is regularly tweet links to things he believes his subscribers will find valuable. In short he provides a service to his community. He gains credibility in an unobtrusive manner and in that way he stays top of mind because he serves.

3. Analyze, don’t Assume
I’ve mentioned this one before but your long term strategy must be based on understanding your customers behavior. Capture, analyze, test, don’t assume that my return visits automatically mean I am a hug fan of everything your brand entails.

Starbucks is a great example of a company that want’s to tailor your experience based on your behavior. Their Gold Card program helps them understand who you are as a customer and react to you accordingly. It isn’t nine stamps on a paper card to get your tenth coffee free. It’s knowing what you order and when. Their analyzing you as an individual because you have self identified and joined. That analysis helps them make you feel known, valued, and cared for.

Whether you’re a blogger, a coffee shop, an author, or a hotel chain you need to offer, serve and analyze. In doing so you’ll stay top of mind and they’ll remain loyal.

What tactics do you use to keep your brand top of mind for your customers?

*There is no way to build brand loyalty if you have a crappy product or service. That goes without saying, which is why I didn’t say it.

The Conerstone of Loyalty: Capturing Customer Behavior

I was saddened to learn within the last few weeks that the television show Cheers is not quite the cultural reference it once was. Sam and Diane’s clumsy relational tension, Norm and Cliff pontificating from the corner of the bar, Carla’s cutting wit…it just doesn’t hold the same sway it once did.

That being said I still believe that show’s tag line pretty much sums up the idea of why we need to capture customer behavior:

“You want to go where everybody knows your name”


Cheers was one of those bars where the regulars WERE known by name. All they had to do was walk in the door and a glass was pulled up to start provision of their favorite libation. Part of the draw of the show was that we all like that kind of service. We like walking into a place where we’re known and treated like family.

But it’s more than that. If it was JUST knowing someones name it would be easy. The difference comes when you can ask, “So what’ll it be…the usual?” and know what you’re talking about.

I fly United probably more that any other airline because Denver is a hub for them. What if United defaulted to an aisle seat when I booked online because I have proven, over ten years, that that is where I want to sit.

I stay at Hilton properties quite often. What if the Hilton web site picked a king size, non-smoking room as a first choice every time I logged in and looked to make a reservation. They should be WELL acquainted with that choice by now.

And perhaps the craziest of all…Based solely on my direct purchase history with them, Disney SHOULD be able to identify:

  • The names and birth-dates of everyone in my family
  • Our wedding anniversary
  • The time of year we like to travel
  • The number of days we typically visit the parks
  • The extras we like to include in our trips

Data like that is a GOLD MINE. With information like in hand they could tailor enticing offers based on specific data and past behavior. They could actually ask, “Mr. Fletcher will it be the usual this year? A three day stay sometime in October?”  or “Mr. Fletcher would you and your wife like to join us for a cruise this July to celebrate your 22nd anniversary? What about bringing the kids this time? They’re probably a little…Grumpy…you left them out last time. We’d like to offer you a free cabin upgrade so you can bring them along.”

I know, I know, it sounds like it could border on creepy and I do push the boundaries there to make a strong example but the data they should already have on file would make that type of communication incredibly simple.

All of a sudden I’m not just receiving 20% off coupons like everyone else. I’m known by name. I’m not standing in line, pun intended, with a thousands of people who have never had an annual pass. I’m appreciated. I’m not clicking on a blanket email link. I’m getting a specific offer that says : ‘We know you and have something special for YOU because we value you as a customer.’

Let me say that one more time:

  • We know you
  • We value you
  • We have something special for YOU

THAT drives loyalty like nothing else.

What more could you do with the customer data you already have? What other types of data should you be capturing in order to show your customers you know their name, and so much more?





Customer Loyalty Programs: Some Do’s and Dont’s

I knew I had a couple loyalty program cards around somewhere. It turns out this wasn’t even all of them.

Let’s face it everybody has some flavor of loyalty program these days. Almost every last one of them is designed to do the same thing: get you to come back to buy more. Airlines, hotels, grocery stores, restaurant chains, they all have something to offer.  In fact the notion of a loyalty card or membership card is so pervasive we almost take them completely for granted.

So how do you rise above that mess on my desk?

1. Don’t assume: just because they come back doesn’t mean they’re loyal.

Loyalty programs are funny beasties. On the one end you have people who love you and WANT to come back. In the middle you have people who feel they OUGHT to come back, they’re more loyal to attaining the next level than doing business with you specifically. On the far end you have those who feel that they HAVE to come back because that’s where they have all their points.

I confess I’m typically of the ought to variety. Old Chicago’s World Beer Tour is one of the loyalty programs to which I am most loyal. I’ve completed the tour twice and am working on my third trip. But that doesn’t drive me in there any more often. It just makes me mad when I forget to bring my beer card.

DO pay attention to whether your loyalty customers are WANTs, OUGHTs or HAVEs.

2. DON’T forget: Loyalty and Appreciation are close relatives

Most loyalty programs include discounts. I’m becoming less of a fan of discounts because they seem to speak to value. I rather like the Chick-Fil-A approach, if they’re going to give you something they’ll give it to you for free. They aren’t going to comment on the value by discounting.

While discounting does make me feel appreciated as a customer it’s really just price manipulation. I’d rather get “something else”. Maybe it’s a particular set of items only available to members, even the standard “tenth one is free” is ok.

Even better though I’d like you to tailor offerings to how I do business with you. For example, United Airlines should know by now, after hundreds of thousands of miles, that I will do whatever I can to get an aisle seat. What if in knowing that preference they offered me priority aisle seating? Not only would I feel appreciated, I’d feel like they knew me.

DO appreciate your loyalty customers by showing that you know them.

I could go on for quite some time on this topic, and probably will. For now though ask yourself two questions:

1. How do I get my loyalty customers coming back because they love us rather than because they are after the next point level?

2. Do I know my loyalty customers well enough to appreciate them personally?

More to come…

In some industries it cost cost as much as five to ten times as much to get a new customer as it does to keep an old one. What are you doing to keep your old ones? What does loyalty look like in your customer base?