Okay, so the lyrics don’t trip off the tongue as well as the original but, then again, when The Clash wrote their song I suspect they were thinking more of booze, girls and other activities rather than customer loyalty, which is what I have been giving some thought to.
Last week I had the privilege of sitting as one of a panel of experts at BDRC Continental’s Annual Hotels Insight Forum at the Park Plaza in Waterloo. The event was attended by about 70 people from the world of hotels and hospitality and included representatives from the likes of Hilton, Radisson and Marriott as well as less mainstream niche players. The theme for the day was “Sprinkle stardust or deliver vanilla-customer engagement and retention”.
Cris Tarrant, CEO and Founder of BDRC Continental (incidentally, the largest independent research agency in the UK), had asked me to sit on the panel because I am specifically not from the world of conferences, hotel loyalty card schemes and occupancy rates. He wanted to ensure an external perspective about what is actually going on for customers when hoteliers and hospitality professionals think about loyalty, retention and engagement was also included in the discussion.
The really interesting and unordinary part of the day for me was a section where a live focus group with actual customers was facilitated on stage in front of the delegates. What the customers said was then subsequently discussed and debated by the attendees and with the expert panel.
Inevitably much of the discussion around engendering customer loyalty was about the rational side of propositions such as card based loyalty programmes, rather than talking of ways to make more emotional connections with customers. I think this simply reflects the general balance of thinking, activity and resourcing in marketing departments in most companies (not just hotels) who are trying to make their customers feel loyal to them. I think this balance is wrong. From a customer’s perspective, the things that will make them truly loyal in the “I love them” sense are the emotive elements of a proposition rather than the rational. But businesses typically put most of their effort into the rational elements which have less of an influence. For customers, when we really delve into what it means to be loyal to a brand or organisation, it is so much deeper, more emotive, than it might first appear. For customers, loyalty-and its extension love-is more about feeling and emotion, than function and rationality.
And this is where the lyrics from The Clash come in. When customers are thinking ‘should I stay?’ with a brand, it is not quite the same thing as asking themselves ‘should I not go now?’ The difference is subtle but important and I see the distinction as follows. The first question is answered by the positive, emotionally led and continually constructed reasons which a brand gives for a customer to love them. The latter question is answered by human beings’ innate inertia and the rational hygiene factors which brands implement and which customers expect.
The reasons for how customers answer the “Should I stay?” question are distinctive, personal and emotive. They are about surprise and being treated as an individual. They are about demonstrations of service which go well beyond their expectations. They are about tangible and personal representations of valuing their custom. And it is about brands creating an environment which makes the customer say ‘it just feels right with them’.
On the other hand, the “should I not go?” reasons are typically driven by industry norms against which customers assess the proposition in question. It is about habit. It is about feeling comfortable with the familiar and the fact that most of the time customers just cannot be bothered with the hassle of switching somewhere else, even if they are unhappy. These customers are often silent to the brand and the brand can choose to take this silence as glowing contentment or simmering discontentment; genuine loyalty or stunning apathy.
And events invariably arise which will cause a customer to question their relationship with the brand. When they get an offer from a competitor which is 10% less than their best price. When their website is down at the precise moment they want to buy. When they have a bad experience with the brand and the opportunity is not used to deepen the customer relationship. When they hear, via their social networks and word of mouth, that another organisation treats its customers really well. When these types of thing happen, the reasons to ‘not go’ within a proposition become largely irrelevant. It is the extent and quality of the reasons ‘to stay’ which will define whether that customer is loyal to the brand.
Customers have more choice than ever, find it easier to switch and struggle to differentiate the rational elements within most propositions. If you don’t give them reasons to stay-emotional hooks and memories that enhance their lives in some way-you are not maximising your chances of deserving their loyalty. As the Claridge’s General Manager says in the brilliant documentary series currently on BBC2, “You have to create a reason for them to come back”.
To get their customers to love them, talk about them, keep returning and spending more money with them, businesses need to stop focusing so much effort and discussion on the reasons to not go and, instead, spend the time creating as many reasons for their customers to stay as they can. To finish off the Clash’s lyrics….if they don’t, there will be trouble…….
Lexden is a marketing strategy agency which creates unordinary propositions to motivate customers and deliver commercial advantage for brands.
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