What innovation and customer loyalty have in common

Customer loyalty. Oh my, today it is as important as the topic of innovation. Customer loyalty is the key to profitability. The reason is simple: It costs more to acquire a new customer than to keep a current one. Without customer loyalty, customers leave.

I’ve had the opportunity to work with companies of all sizes, from scrappy startups to large multinationals. And while there are many differences between them, there is one distinction that trumps them all: their attitude towards existing keeping customers.

While startups need customers, and will do anything to get and maintain them, a large company is full of contradictions. Delight customers? Let’s do that. Wait!, what is that? How much is that going to cost?

Uh-hu! Yeah, that’s how it looks like. Or they’ll simply say “yes, let’s do that” but then nothing happens.

Currently, I’m having a similar interaction with a large multinational that believes they shouldn’t have to fight for their existing customer’s loyalty. While it isn’t surprising, it is a headache to get them to see that simply doing superficial changes to their service won’t make the pain go away.

It is a similar conversation I had last year with one of the owners of a transportation company of the city of Tijuana. Customer’s were complaining that the buses always arrived late, so this company started thinking about how changing the design of the buses might change that perception. Their logic was that if they changed the design of the buses, literally buy new ones, that the customer would get a bit excited and so forget about the horrible service.

This, to me, was ridiculous. Just because you modify the color of the thing doesn’t mean people are not going to have to wait more for them to arrive and, therefore, arrive on time at their destination. They never did anything, so the problem still persists. It just goes to show how this company, a very important company, thinks about their customers.

Innovation and customer loyalty are connected

In the world we live in today, where customer experiences are flowing and no longer constrained to one medium, customer expectations change. Customer loyalty is not static. What made your customer loyal at the beginning isn’t going to keep them satisfied today because people grow tired of the same old thing, no matter how cool it was at a previous point.

If we stop creating excitement for customers, be it new products or services, more interesting ways to serving them, or simply making any dimension of our service better; we will become irrelevant to them.

And, by the way, this is the reason most successful companies fail: success hides problems.

Ask yourself these questions to gain some perspective on how conscious you are about why the customer should stick with you:

  • What does being ordinary look like?
  • What did extraordinary look like when you gained your customer’s loyalty?
  • Is what you’re doing still extraordinary today?
  • Does the customer look forward to having contact with us?

Bottom line: Markets and customers are dynamic. They’re always changing, always evolving. We have to continue to give existing customers a reason to care. I’ve always likened customer loyalty to attracting and retaining the best employees because you have to treat them like your partners, not numbers on a spreadsheet.

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The shortest path to innovation