John DiJulius | Customer Service Keynote Speaker

Monthly Mash: Customer Experience Tools and Secret Service

Volume 1: October 2011 Mashup

Welcome to the Monthly Mash, a mashup of tools, tales and tips on customer service and the customer experience from around the blogosphere.

Many thanks to those who participated and supported the naming of this series! You know who you are.

Customer Experience Resource: John DiJulius

John DiJulius | Customer Service Keynote SpeakerThis month’s spotlight is on John DiJulius, one of the premiere customer experience keynote speakers, authors, and consultants around. He has written two excellent books about customer service: What’s The Secret and Secret Service, both of which I highly recommend. I had the pleasure of seeing DiJulius speak at the Multi-Unit Franchise show this past spring, and his presentation was simply excellent. I mentioned the customer service video he showed during his talk in an earlier post.

I thought John DiJulius would be a fitting first spotlight for the Monthly Mash, as his work has been one of the bigger influences on my customer service thinking and, more aptly, because I am very excited to be attending his Secret Service Summit this week! One of DiJulius’ core teachings is having invisible systems (hence, Secret Service) that seamlessly help organizations deliver an exceptional customer experience. Please check out John DiJulius’ website, blog, and books. You won’t be disappointed.

The Month In Customer Service Blogging

A collection of the best posts about customer service and the customer experience I read this past month.

Someone Was Listening

Sometimes the most popular post from the previous month; sometimes just the one I am most proud of.

Thoughts on the Customer

In China a Zen master traveled with a few disciples to the capital and camped near the river.  A monk of another sect asked one of the disciples of the Zen master if his teacher could do magic tricks.  His own master, said the monk of the other sect, was a very talented and developed man.  If he stood on one side of the river, and somebody else stood on the other side, and if you gave the master a brush and the other man a sheet of paper then the master would be able to write characters in the air which would appear on the sheet of paper. 

The Zen monk replied that his master was also a very talented and developed man, because he too could perform the most astounding feats.  If he slept, for instance, he slept, and if he ate, he ate.

Buddhist Tale*

I’ve thought more and more about this story in recent years, as our lives have become increasingly intertwined with the technologies of the day. While there is a powerful lesson here for life, there is also a powerful lesson for anyone who touches a customer.

Our customers deserve our attention. Are you present in the moment and focused on the person you are serving? Have you left your inbox, To Do list, and voicemails behind while you focus on the customer and what they are saying about their needs? It sounds simple; yet, as most of us know, in today’s world, true focus might be one of the most difficult feats of all.

I hope you enjoyed the Monthly Mash. Feel free to share it using the social share buttons below.

*Please forgive the lack of attribution. I copied this from a collection of Buddhist stories over 15 years ago, and an exact word search on Google yielded nothing.

Angry Customer Snow Monkey

Six Easy Ways to Make Sure Your Customers Hate You

 

Laura Click | Blue Kite MarketingGuest Poster: Laura Click

It is my pleasure to introduce Laura Click, who has been kind enough to babysit this blog while I am away at a conference. Laura is founder and chief innovator at Blue Kite Marketing, a Nashville-based marketing and social media strategy firm that’s passionate about helping small businesses reach new heights. I discovered Laura’s blog earlier this year and have enjoyed her insights on how small businesses can excel with social media and marketing.

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Every business thinks they are excellent at customer service.

But, most are dead wrong. And maybe you are too.

Sure, you might take care of the big, obvious things. Your staff might be friendly, and you have real people answering the phone. But, I’m willing to bet there are some things you are doing that are silently frustrating your customers.

And, you have no idea.

Sure, there are the squeaky wheels out there that love to make noise about how you’ve wronged them. However, the silent majority stew about their irritating experiences with you.

Sometimes, the smallest things make the biggest impression. If you want to want to keep your clients and encourage them to refer your business to others, make sure you don’t commit these offenses:

 

Angry Customer Snow Monkey1. Miss deadlines

We often have good reasons for not getting the job done on time. Maybe you were sick or buried under other deadlines. However, your clients don’t care. They want the job done on time as promised.

If you’re unable to reach a deadline, give your client the heads up. They will be much more forgiving if you let them know you will be behind, especially if you have good reason for it. But, whatever you do, don’t let this become a habit.

2. Arrive late to meetings

Occasionally, unexpected things come up that prevent us from arriving somewhere on time. However, meetings running long or difficulty finding parking are not good reasons to be late. That’s just bad planning on your part.

Give yourself some cushion between meetings should things run long and allow enough time to travel to your next appointment. If you’re going to be more than a few minutes late, be sure to call and let them know you are on your way.

3. Ignore emails and phone messages

It’s easy to get crushed under the weight of an overflowing inbox. However, that’s no excuse for not returning messages.

Most messages should be returned within 2-3 days (if not sooner). Even if you can’t get the answers to the person right away, acknowledge that you received the message. That goes a long way.

4. Forget about results

Whether you offer a product or service, we’re all in the business of delivering results. Your product should work properly, and your services should focus on helping clients reach their goals.

If you’re not helping your customers solve their problems or make their lives easier, you are going to have a difficult time staying in business.

5. Ignore your budget or pricing

If you’re in a service-based business, you likely have to provide cost estimates to your clients. And sometimes, there’s no way to predict when things are going to take longer than you projected.

Although your time is valuable, think before you start charging extra for projects going over budget. Customers don’t care about how long it takes to get something done. What they do care about is that the job is completed. Be mindful of how you price your services so you can avoid nickel and diming them.

6. Neglect feedback or complaints

If clients vocalize their concerns about your business, it’s important to listen to their feedback and work to make things right. It’s easy to get defensive or just ignore negative comments, but that will just make the situation worse.

People often change their tenor when they hear back from the company that wronged them. So, Listen. Respond. Make things right with the customer. Then, work to correct the issue moving forward.

 

Keys to Amazing Customer Service

If you want to wow your clients and keep them coming back for more, here are a few principles to remember:

♦ Treat every customer as if they are they only one

Every customer wants to feel important – even if they are the smallest client or one of many.  It says a lot about a company if they roll out the red carpet for every customer, regardless of their size or how much money they spend. And believe me, your customers will notice.
 

Strive to impress your customers at every interaction

Think of every way your business interacts with clients – phone, email, meetings, invoicing – and make sure it is seamless and positive. Every employee is a customer service ambassador, not just the frontline staff. Make sure they all know how to handle clients with dignity and respect.

Delight and surprise your customers

If you want to stand out for all the right reasons, go out of your way to do unexpected, over-the-top gestures for your customers. Do this and you won’t be able to stop people from spreading the good word about your business.

 

What frustrates you most as a customer? As a business, how do you ensure you’re not making these missteps?

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Guest Post Disclaimer: Guest Posts on the Customers That Stick blog are submitted by individual guest posters and in no way represent the opinions or endorsement of CTS Service Solutions, its owners or employees. CTS Service Solutions does not represent or guarantee the truthfulness, accuracy, or reliability of statements or facts posted by Guest Posters on this blog.

Customer Experience Roundup | Hat and Lassoo

Help Me Create A Smokin’ Hot Customer Experience Blog Roundup

To the wonderful members of this community:

I would like to enlist your help with a new project. I am starting a regular roundup post centered around this blog’s topics of customer experience and customer service. Based on my available personal bandwidth and the amount of content I have time to digest, I figured a monthly roundup would be most appropriate.

Customer Experience Roundup | Hat and LassooMy roundup idol is Kristi Hines of kikolani.com. Though she addresses a different set of topics, her Fetching Friday roundup is simply the most consistent, focused, and well-curated roundup I follow. My goal would be to create something as helpful and, hopefully, of similarly high quality in the customer experience sphere.

So, here’s the part where I ask for your help…

Inspired by The Sales Lion Marcus Sheridan’s success tapping his community to help him choose a tag line, I would very much like to crowdsource the framework for the roundup. While I am sure the format will evolve over time, I figured I could shorten my learning curve and not test the patience of my readers by enlisting the wisdom of crowds and my not-near-Lion-level-but-still-awesome community. Below are some of my ideas for the roundup — some more fully formed than others. I would love to hear your revisions and additions to the following ideas:

 

Title

Gini Dietrich has her Gin and Topics, a fun and often funny weekly roundup; Brankica Underwood has her Sweet Sunny Saturday, an excellent biweekly roundup on blogging, social media, and more; and, as mentioned, Kristi has Fetching Fridays. Here’s what I have… Uuggh.

  • Customer Experience Roundup – Simple, yet understated…
  • The Customer Experience Corral – The official blog of the Urban Cowboy. The closest I could get to “roundup” and some alliteration with the letter C. It stinks, and I hate it. But I’m listing it anyway.
  • Customer Experience Monthly Mashup — Top contender so far. It did the mash… the monster mash.

Anything else… No, seriously, anything…

Bueller?

 

Four Sections

1. Customer Experience Resource: Website X
This section would highlight a blogger, web site, Twitter chat, etc. that could be valuable to those interested in customer experience optimization and customer service.

2. Links
Not sure whether to have set categories, have none, or let them develop organically each month relative to the content. Here are some categories I am considering. Thoughts?

  • Customer Service Stories
  • Customer Service Research
  • Social Media and Customer Service
  • Miscellaneous

3. Last Month’s Most Popular Post
This would highlight the most popular post on this blog during the previous month and give readers who missed it another chance.

4. Thoughts on the Customer
Most likely a quote or particularly insightful excerpt from a book or blog.

 

Other Ideas?
So, that’s it. I would love to hear what’s bad, what’s good, and any ideas for improvement. Should I add anything? Remove anything? Add something that is fun and not all business? If you made it this far, I thank you for your time and look forward to your comments below.

I will be at a business conference these next few days. So, please know I appreciate your input, even if I am only replying at night.

Please stay tuned: I am excited to announce that Laura Click will be babysitting this blog while I am otherwise engaged! Please stop by on Tuesday to see what Laura has to say about making your customers hate you.

Customer Service Training Video Screenshot

Customer Service Training Video: Every Customer Has a Story

In April, I had the distinct pleasure of seeing John DiJulius, one of my favorite customer experience thought leaders, speak at the Multi-Unit Franchise conference. To begin, if you ever have the opportunity to see John DiJulius speak — do it! He has a great message, and his presentation is simply amazing.

During the presentation, DiJulius showed an incredible video that perfectly summed up one of the key messages I have always used in customer service training:

You never know what is going on with your customer or what path they took to get to you.

The person standing in front of you has a story. They have joys and stresses, successes and disappointments, triumphs and tragedies. They want you to solve a problem, to make their life a little easier and a little more enjoyable.

Ever since seeing DiJulius speak, we had been hoping to find the video to use for training; however, we had been unsuccesful until last week when I stumbled across a post from Kyle Lacey which discussed the video. It should come as no surprise; the video is a training video at Chik-Fil-A. Check it out:

 

In his post on the video, Understanding The Personal Story of the Customer, Kyle takes away a great message that our customers do want us to know about them — they want to be heard. This type of customer intelligence can be crucial in helping to shape a customer experience that resonates with each individual customer. But as laudable a goal as customer intelligence is, it is not an overnight process. (See John DiJulius’ excellent book, Secret Service, for an in-depth look at this concept.)

I would like to focus on another message in the video — one that can be utilized for immediate results.

Empathy

When an upset customer stands before you, it is rarely personal. They came to you to make their life easier, and for some reason, they feel you made it worse. Helping team members understand that they do not know what is going with the customer — how rushed, or stressed or sick they might be — and that they should approach each interaction with that fact in mind is a crucial message to instill throughout any organization.

It might be tautological to say so, but service is about serving. Customer experience reps should seek first to understand, and then to embrace the idea that even when they can’t understand, they can still be understanding.

After all, we all have a story.

What were your reactions to the video? Were you ever the customer that needed to be understood, who got upset out of proportion to the offense because of what was going on elsewhere?

Steve Jobs Holding Mac

Steve Jobs’ Greatest Legacy: The Customer Experience

I am a recent Apple convert. I made the painful though glorious switch to Mac in May and moved from Android to iPhone at about the same time. I own an iPad, simultaneously the coolest piece of technology I own and the most expensive paper weight in my house, and I still use my iPod Nano, the only piece of Apple technology I own that is more than a year old.

Steve Jobs Holding MacThroughout the last few months of my foray into the Cult of Mac, I have learned something about Steve Jobs.

Yes, Jobs was an extraordinary innovator. Yes, Jobs was a marketing genius. But, more than anything, Jobs was a leader obsessed with the customer experience.

Community member Leon Noone emailed me an excellent Harvard Business Review piece a few weeks ago entitled The Hidden (in Plain Sight) Legacy of Steve Jobs by Bill Lee. Lee discusses some great points about Jobs’ customer focus (also a few I think would be dangerous to extrapolate to non-tech industries) but most telling was this point:

Don’t be obsessed with technical details, but do be obsessed with the details of customer experience

Jobs is supposedly obsessed with every detail that goes into Apple devices. Not so. He focuses on the details relevant to the customer’s experience. When one of Apple’s design teams was tasked with developing a DVD-burning software program for high-end Macs, developers spent weeks putting together a plan. On the appointed day to present it to Jobs, they brought pages filled with prototype information, pictures of the new program’s various windows and menu options, along with documentation showing how the application would work. When Jobs walked into the meeting, he didn’t so much as look at any of the plans. He picked up a marker, went to a whiteboard and drew a rectangle, representing the application. He then told them what he wanted the new application to do. The user would drag the video into the window, a button would appear that said “burn,” and the user would click it. “That’s it, that’s what we’re going to make,” he said.

Steve Jobs never lost site of the end user. Despite his products being fawned over by tech types across the spectrum, Jobs did not design his products for the Robert Scobles of the world; he designed them for the entire world.

Jobs knew that in a technology-based industry, a great customer experience involved a product people wanted to use, that accomplished its tasks reliably, and which confronted them with the underlying technology as little as possible. He understood that the workings behind a great customer experience should be invisible.

From the iPad to the Apple store, Jobs’ obsession was not technology for technology’s sake but technology for the sake of optimizing the customer experience. Jobs understood that a great customer experience should involve both function and form, striving to achieve an almost Zen-like symbiosis between the two.

An Apple product should just do, and be — and, in some sense, should help bring a sense quietude, nay peace, to the user.

Steve Jobs helped bring that feeling to millions of people across the world. I can only hope that he is experiencing it now.

requiescat in pace

Paper Smile Face, Business Concept

National Customer Service Week 2011: What’s Your Plan?

This week, October 3-9, marks National Customer Service Week (NCSW). NCSW was established by proclamation of President Bush (#41) in 1992. The beginning of the proclamation reads:

In a thriving free enterprise system such as ours, which provides consumers with a wide range of goods and services from which to choose, the most successful businesses are those that display a strong commitment to customer satisfaction. Today foreign competition as well as consumer demands are requiring greater corporate efficiency and productivity. If the United States is to remain a leader in the changing global economy, highest quality customer service must be a personal goal of every employee in business and industry. (Read the full proclamation.)

Of course, if your organization is committed to the customer experience, every week should be customer service week; however, “official” weeks like this are a great opportunity to generate discussions with customers and team members and to take the time to do a little extra.

 

National Customer Service Week: A Roundup of Ideas

Paper Smile Face, Business Concept

Sometimes, it’s as simple as a smile.

Thinking of doing something special for National Customer Service Week? Take a look at the ideas listed below from some great customer service minds. Included is my favorite idea from the author’s list and a link to the author’s full post.

Shep Hyken: Ten Customer and Employee Focused Ideas for NCSW
  • Once a day throughout the week, distribute an article about customer service to all of your employees. 

(Shep has some great tips on his blog you can use.)

Richard Shapiro: National Customer Service Week, Ten Tips for Repeat Business
  • Say hello and smile. In this era of technology, people are more stressed than ever. Getting a big, warm hello can go a long way in giving a customer the feeling of “Hey, this company is really happy to see me.”

(Perhaps turn this into a contest — which CSR can get the most “you are so friendly” compliments this week.)

The Official Customer Service Week Website: Tips for a Successful Celebration
  • Distribute Certificates of Appreciation, Service Awards and small gifts… to those unsung heroes in other departments who make a great effort to meet customers’ needs.

(This website does sell commercial items for NCSW but also has some good information on the event.)

Kate Nasser: National Customer Service Week – Celebrate People Skills
  • Celebrate People-Skills. As your customer service teams celebrate with contests, parties, and picture taking, celebrate people skills (aka soft skills) with a thought for each day!

(Kate’s post was from last year’s NCSW, but I’ve been becoming a big fan of hers lately and loved her daily ideas).

 

One More Idea for National Customer Service Week

In addition to the ideas above, set aside a day or a morning/afternoon for an “Open Line to Management.” Have a manager and/or owner available to take calls from customers. Send out an email to your clients mentioning that, in honor of National Customer Service Week, we are setting aside a time to listen to our customers one on one. Encourage them to share any feedback they have, positive and negative. Possibly offer an incentive for anyone who calls.

 

So, had you heard of National Customer Service Week before? What was your favorite idea? Are you going to celebrate it in your business.

Customer Service Stories: Snorkeling Guide Truck

Customer Service Stories: Stop Subcontractors From Killing Your Customers

Customer Service Stories Header

One of the trickier parts of delivering an exceptional customer experience is when you cede control of the experience to subcontractors. Maintaining service standards with the company’s team is challenging enough; maintaining those same levels of service through a subcontractor can border on the impossible. The experience we had when vacationing on the island of Curacao last fall provides an stark lesson in how quickly a subcontractor can put an ugly mask on the face of a business.

Note: Names have been changed to protect the guilty

 

Let’s See Some Fish…

We scheduled an off property snorkel tour through our hotel which was subcontracted through a company called Curacao Underwater Outfitters. A twenty something Curacoan picked us up at the hotel with an elderly Dutch couple from another hotel already in tow. The vehicle was of the sort that makes one appreciate modern safety features like shoulder restraints, seat belts, and air bags. The first thing that came to my mind was that we were going snorkeling in a German troop truck from World War II. Judge for yourself.

Customer Service Stories: Snorkeling Guide Truck

The Truck, with guide and Dutch couple minutes before the chase. License and faces obscured.

Janz the tour guide was nice enough. He showed us a scenic overlook on the way to the snorkeling site. He did inform us that, depending on the parking, he might not be able to go in the water with us. The truck had been broken into a few weeks before, and he might have to stay with the gear if we could not park inside the private lot. Works for me, I thought. I don’t like leaving my stuff anyway.

Unfortunately, this discussion prompted Janz to begin talking about the break-in, an event which he had clearly not come to terms with. His “two hundred dollar sunglasses had been stolen,” he stated more than once. He seemed quite raw on the topic.

Read More

Pride Creates Bad Customer Service

How Your Pride Is Losing You Customers

In customer service, pride is a double-edged sword. Pride in your organization can cause team members to go the extra mile. However, pride of the don’t-disprespect-me variety can cause team members to respond unfavorably to upset customers. When the personal reaction to an unhappy customer trumps the professional reaction, pride has won, and your organization has lost.

Pride Creates Bad Customer Service

Upset with our service? Sounds like personal problem.

As much was we strive to setup customer service systems that proactively create great customer experiences, we will fail our customers on occasion. Sometimes it happens because we failed to deliver, sometimes it happens because of circumstances beyond our control, and sometimes it happens because even flawlessly executed our performance was not to the satisfaction of the customer.

We can be as proactive as we want; there will always be times when we need to react to a dissatisfied customer.

And it is in the reaction to dissatisfied customers that pride becomes a problem.

 

Way Too Proud to Beg

In many years working with employees and management on customer service, one of the biggest impediments I have seen to giving great reactive service has been the professional’s pride. From a psychological standpoint, most of us have been programmed to take the reactions that are typical of upset customers as disrespect or rudeness. Raised voices, sharp comments, angry ultimatums — all of these reactions are part and parcel of servicing customers, but they are also actions that can provoke a undesirable subconscious response.

Upset customers will push people’s buttons (if you don’t agree, then you’re not in retail). And it is your job as a customer experience professional to un-press those buttons, to react as a person whose job it is to delight the customer and not as a person who needs to buoy their self-esteem by “winning” the argument. If you want to create a world-class experience for your customers, then always remember…

Unless you are the company’s legal counsel, taking crap from customers is your job.

And therein lies the challenge. Personal reactions are natural reactions. However, part of what separates humans from animals is the ability to supplant instinctual reaction with conscious decision making.  As a group, we are able to overcome our reactions, and act within the context of a larger framework. As individuals, some of us are better at it than others.

 

Why Everyone Is Not Right for Customer Service

The inability of some to depersonalize conflict behaviors is one reason I disagree with the assertion that anyone can be trained to be great at customer service. While I do believe that anyone who has the ability to be a good employee has the ability to deliver a create proactive customer experience (in other words anyone who cares enough to go beyond the bare minimum), when you get into reactive service, particularly into problem management, the subset gets smaller.

Some people just aren’t constituted to handle it well. They cannot detach themselves, and they take the customers’ criticisms personally. They get their back up and being right becomes more important that winning the customer over.

If you win the argument, you almost always lose the customer.

I think the issue of pride in customer service is rarely talked about because it is difficult to address. It’s easy to drop platitudes like always be professional (I do it too), but in my experience, platitudes are not enough to over come basic human emotions and reflexive reactions. You need something stronger than professionalism — you need a mission. A mission to make sure that every customer has a great experience, and a mission to try to right the wrong when that does not occur. To succeed at that mission, team members need the self-awareness to not sabotage their own dedication to the mission with reflexive responses and subconscious defense mechanisms.

 

Attempting to eliminate pride from the service experience is a challenge. Each individual is different and trying to suss out these traits in the interview process will not always be easy. Like any organizational position, success comes from hiring people with the right temperament for the position and giving them the tools to be successful.

I will discuss techniques for helping customer experience professionals overcome prideful reactions in a future post. For now, when training for customer service, discuss pride openly. Help your team become more self-aware. And then, most importantly, heed your own advice.

 

So, does pride goeth before a bad customer experience? Have you ever had someone give you bad service because they wanted to be right not helpful? Have you ever delivered service below your own standards because your pride got in the way?

What is Excellent Customer Service Survey

What Is Excellent Customer Service?

Customer service is one of those topics where it is easy to speak in broad generalities. Sayings such as the customer is always right and service begins with a smile easily convey basic, unqualified principles that mask the fact that what defines excellent customer service will always be incredibly individual in nature.

However, while superior service is inevitably in the eye of the beholder, a focus on universal principles can provide organizations a worthwhile starting point to providing a customer experience that surpasses expectation. In evaluating what constitutes superior service, two basic ideas apply to almost any business.

 

What is Excellent Customer Service SurveyWhat is Excellent Customer Service?

Excellent customer service is a level of service delivery that manages to be both unnoticeable and remarkable at the same time.

 While these two conceptions might seem diametrically opposed, they are both part of a customer experience that defies the expected by delivering the expected — and then some.

Excellent Customer Service Is Unnoticeable

Awhile back I was discussing some challenges with a key vendor when I commented to her, “If you are doing your job right, you’ll be invisible to me. I shouldn’t think of you unless I am paying your invoices or there is an emergency.” You see, the regular problems were making the service erratic — sometimes great and sometimes terrible — and the regularity of the problems was enough to make the stand out moments unimportant.

The fundamental building block of excellence in customer experience is consistent performance of the basics in a way that meets expectations. And while meeting expectations is not an end goal, it is the base upon which superior service must be built. The product should work as expected, and the service should be provided as expected. Without this consistency of met expectations, stand out moments of above-and-beyond service will have little resonance. It is important to remember that…

Remarkable experiences will not save inconsistent performance.

Before you can truly provide excellent customer service, the basic expectations communicated by your brand promise must be met regularly and seamlessly.

Excellent Customer Service Is Remarkable

What takes customer service to the level of excellent or superior? Moments or processes that stand out in the customer’s mind. It is the extra touch at the end of a service, the same day turnaround for the need-it-now product, or the extra follow up at the end of a sales call.

Excellent customer service is created by layering moments of differentiation on top of consistent performance.

 How do you know if you are achieving these levels of service? You start receiving comments like these…

“I can’t believe you had that waiting on me, I am blown away”

“Jane really makes every visit a pleasure; make sure you keep her.”

“I’ve been getting this type of service for twenty years; this is the first time anyone has ever listened to what I was saying.”

 

In the end, each business must chart its own path to excellence by knowing its customers and its model. And while the details will vary by industry and application, the above basics are a sound starting point for all businesses. Create systems and training to produce your product or deliver your service consistently, and then look for ways to stand out in your customers’ minds.

 

When was the last time you had excellent customer service? What made it excellent? What steps do you take in your business to provide customer experiences that are consistent and/or memorable?

Definition of Customer Loyalty: Dog Waiting on Dock

The Definition of Customer Loyalty

Definition of Customer Loyalty: Dog Waiting on DockI have been trying to find a good definition of customer loyalty in this wide world of the Internet, and I have come to the conclusion that 1) no one has figured out how to define customer loyalty or 2) I am really bad at finding information on the Internet.

Do some searches yourself; you’ll find a lot of general discussion of what customer loyalty is or concepts that are important in evaluating it — but few definitions, and no good ones.

I believe customer loyalty is one of the most important aspects of the customer service experience, and if I am going to talk about it frequently, I ought to know exactly what it is. So, I decided to take a stab at a definition:

My Definition of Customer Loyalty

Customer loyalty is the continued and regular patronage of a business in the face of alternative economic activities and competitive attempts to disrupt the relationship.

Customer loyalty often results in other secondary benefits to the firm such as brand advocacy, direct referrals, and price insensitivity.

While certainly sounding a bit wonkish (sorry, the academic inclinations slip through on occasion), the definition above is admittedly a theoretical approach. It succeeds as a theoretical construct in that it is comprehensive, but it fails in practical application because it is not easily measurable. The two qualifiers in the definition demonstrate this well.

Your Customer Could Have Gone to Olive Garden
I have always been grateful for business, but since the crash, that gratitude has been taken to another level. For the most part, people’s dollars are more precious now. The $50 someone spends at my place could have been used to take their family to dinner or to pay down their mortgage. Understanding the opportunity costs, the alternative economic activities, of your customers is a great mindset with which to approach their business, but it is not measurable and is ultimately useless as a way to measure customer loyalty.

When the Customer’s Away, The Competitor Will Play
As the saying goes, you don’t know what you don’t know. You really don’t know when, where or how often your competitors are interacting with your clients. Sure, you will have a sense of some things. You might see a competitor’s major marketing campaign or a friendly receptionist at your client’s company might tip you off that the competitor was in for a meeting. But you will never really know how often competitive interests are attempting to interdict the relationship between you and your customer. And you almost certainly cannot use this concept to definitively measure customer loyalty.

In the end, your customer’s loyalty can be difficult to define and difficult to measure. On a theoretical level, they either did something else with the money or they spent it with a competitor. That simple. However finding the measurements that allow a business to accurately define and gauge the loyalty of their customers is much more challenging, varying by industry and even niche.

Is loyalty the same for a restaurant and a PR firm, for a day spa and maintenance company? Once you begin to drill down to measurable metrics, probably not.

I will leave methods for measuring customer loyalty and techniques for how to increase customer loyalty for future posts. For now, we can find value in the theoretical and simply consider what the concept means in our own businesses. We can look at the people we consider to be our most loyal customers and see what they have in common. What, in our mind, makes them loyal, and what did we do to make them that way? So let me know…

How would you define a loyal customer in your business? What behaviors does that person exhibit that make her loyal? Have you ever tried to measure loyalty or at least think about the differences between your most loyal and your least loyal clients? How can we improve my definition?

PS. If you find a good definition of customer loyalty elsewhere, please share it in the comment section, along with the source.