Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Customer Loyalty -- The Other Kind

When someone says customer loyalty we naturally think about our clients being loyal to us.

But you also need to be loyal to your clients. After all, this is a relationship.

One of the things that separates small service firms from many other companies today is that we do have this relationship. You don't have a relationship with Home Depot, Staples, Best Buy, or Sears.

If you think about it, one of the great frustrations about "customer service" in the 21st Century is that you think your money should buy a little commitment from the big company. But the big company doesn't care and no one inside the company is paid to care.

I recently had an argument with Verizon Wireless because they wouldn't give me even one penny off of a $600 purchase, even though I've been a customer since before they WERE Verizon Wireless and I spend $300/month, plus another $1,000 per year on equipment. I pay the same price for a phone as some punk off the street who's going to pay $19.99 a month and never spend another penny.

It seems like a small thing, but it's not. I've spent tens of thousands of dollars and my business should be more valuable than some stranger.

But it's not.

I would be foolish to think that I should have any loyalty to Verizon Wireless. After all, Verizon Wireless has no loyalty to me.

The result, of course, is that I'm slowly moving phone lines to other carriers who give me the right coverage at a lower price. Thomas, for example, doesn't need to travel all over the country. So the local carrier's "all you can eat" plan is perfect for him. Manuel only needs Northern California. And so forth.

We had a "test" recently within our own business. You need to watch out for this.

An employee of one of our clients called to ask about setting up a domain name, how to handle email for a one-person company, buying a fax machine, etc.

All of that would have been merely interesting except that she said "I'm going to be leaving at the end of the month. Please don't say anything."

Whoa there.

Alarm bells go off when an employee says "Please don't say anything to my boss." Our loyalty has to be to the company with whom we have a contract.

The last thing I need is for "the boss" or owner to call me and say "You knew about this and you didn't tell me?" I can't lose a loyal client because my company wasn't loyal to their business.

Unlike large, faceless companies, we can't afford to treat our clients as if we don't care. We need to care very much and to make sure we handle them properly.

We're not spies for our customers. We've been asked to do that and we don't. In fact, we ended up dropping the client who asked that because that attitude reflected some other unpleasant attitudes.

But there's a legitimate red flag when an employee says "Don't tell the boss."

Here's another example.

A little while back I got a call from one of my oldest clients. She said they were having financial problems. They were going to be having problems for a couple of years. As a result, she can't make her commitment under the service agreement and can't really afford the monthly payments. She asked to be released from the contract and to not be dropped as a client.

I told her that was no problem and that we'll help them manage their technology money for the next two years. And when the money starts flowing again, we'll be here.

One-sided loyalty is really irrational. Why should a client be loyal to you if you're not loyal to them?

It's true with all relationships. Why should you be loyal to a vendor who is not loyal to you?

So, don't think of Customer Loyalty as merely customers being loyal to you. Reciprocate.


  1. Anonymous5:25 AM

    Did you think you should get something for free? As soon as people start GIVING things to me, I will give them to you! How about that? Do you think the cell phone makers Give this stuff to Verizon Wireless? You should tell people what happened to your other equipment - give us all the facts, not some one sided B.S. Has Verizon Wireless not lived up to its agreement with you when you signed your contract? Have you not had the best cellular reception? What about your new every two credit? Or did you upgrade your phone early and lose that credit but still get a great deal from Verizon? Did your phone get wet?Have you looked into what it will cost you to replace a phone from these "other carriers" you are switching to?

    Please think about these questions. You sand baggged your blog. You blogged your blog. I hear whinning like this all the time. You have been with Verizon Wireless for so long because they have provided you with great cellular service. Be a little thankful! Or, maybee you need to test the waters. We'll see you when you get back.

  2. It's nice to know that someone from Verizon reads my blog. :-)

    You missed several points.

    I wasn't asking for free stuff. I was looking for some little thing that separates me from the non-customer.

    Nothing happened to the old phone. We changed technicians and rather than have him use a three-year-old phone, we got him a new one.

    I didn't ask for any specific discount. For ten dollars they could have made this go away.

    My point with Verizon is that I did not feel appreciated as a client. If there's no difference between me and a stranger, then why do I owe Verizon loyalty?

    Like it or not, the answer is, I don't owe Verizon anything. I pay my bill on time. That's the deal we made.


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