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Marketers offer all kinds of personalized promotional deals, rewards programs and membership cards to improve customer loyalty. But it takes more than hot technology, flashy design and discounts to turn loyal, repeat customers into brand promoters -- one of the most valuable marketing tools a business can have. That takes consistently great customer experiences.
However, in the book Fierce Loyalty, slated for publication in February 2019, customer service consultants lay out a strategy to develop customer loyalty by encouraging customer service agents to engage in genuine human interactions with customers by being empathetic, responsible and generous.
"All organizations want to improve customer loyalty, and they all struggle with how to make that happen and happen faster," said Sandy Rogers, leader of FranklinCovey's loyalty practice and primary author of the book. "We have observed that the difference between a good and a great experience comes down to human interactions, to the people who are serving us, whether it is in a contact center, online or in person."
Principles of customer loyalty
Empathy, responsibility and generosity are ingrained in most people by kindergarten, but these traits aren't always properly integrated into business settings. Customer service and support agents don't need to be taught what these principles are, they just need to be encouraged -- and given the proper flexibility and resources -- to apply them to their jobs.
Empathy -- Scripts sound impersonal and the opposite of empathetic because without the ability to listen, a customer service agent can't have empathy.
"In a call center, when you hear someone playing back a script that they have been coached to read, you immediately tune them out," Rogers said. Give agents the freedom to throw out the script when it doesn't apply so they can really listen to what the customer is asking.
Responsibility -- If agents can't listen, they also can't take responsibility for the customer's problem. Hearing what the customer is saying, asking follow-up questions and not rushing off the phone in order to shorten the call time are all necessary in order to solve more complex customer problems.
"Responsible people not only do the work of figuring out the real job to be done, but they follow up. And, in following up, we learn if the job was done successfully," Rogers said. "If not, if there were problems, we can fix them."
Generosity -- "Generosity is where we are sharing our insights with people ultimately to help them succeed. And we are also surprising people with things they didn't even expect," Rogers said.
If an employee surprises the customer by going above and beyond -- even in little ways -- it can make a big difference in the customer's impression of the business and the brand, and it can put customer service agents well on their way to elevating the average customer to a brand promoter.
Hardwiring these principles into workflows
While these three principles are all easy enough to grasp, business objectives can get in the way of implementing these practices into a tight workflow. This change requires a slightly different mindset.
The approach that Roger and his co-authors suggest in Fierce Loyalty is for teams to gather for a 15-minute huddle session each week to celebrate employees' successes, learn new strategies and find new ways to put those strategies into practice in the coming week.
Get started and don't stop -- Like with so many things, the biggest challenge is just getting started and developing a routine. Fierce Loyalty lays out 11 structured huddles for teams to work through. The authors also offer training for managers looking for further guidance on how to lead these huddle sessions.
But "you don't go to the gym for 11 weeks and then decide you're done working out; at least, not if you want to stay in shape," Rogers said. It is important for teams to cycle through these huddles so that each of the principles gets covered approximately once each quarter so employees can continuously work to better apply these principles to their interactions with customers.
Measuring vs. celebrating -- Contact center performance is measured using some very tough metrics: time to answer, hold time, cases resolved per day, customer service scores, etc. All of these metrics are intended to drive sales growth and reduce expenses. But "it is often not what is measured that is improved, but what is celebrated," Rogers said.
The team huddle approach to improve customer loyalty includes both celebrating employees who succeeded in implementing the principles of the previous week's huddle and making a commitment to implementing the current week's principle. "And then we come back next week and go around and report on what we did to keep that commitment, so [we are] holding each other accountable to do these things more often."
Employee loyalty -- Encouraging customer service agents to really help customers -- as opposed to closing a set number of cases per day -- can make them happier, more fulfilled and loyal to the company.
"There is an order of operations in building a successful long-term business, and it starts with your employees," Rogers said. "You have to earn the loyalty of your employees first and then the customers because the customer experience rarely exceeds the employee experience."
While it may be difficult at first to work team meetings into the office's weekly schedule, the time and resource investment of doing so is pretty low, and the principles are not difficult to grasp. However, the cost of not prioritizing these principles can be high.
"Anytime a customer feels like they are not being treated with empathy, that their needs are not being handled responsibly and that a provider is not being generous with them, it is going to erode their loyalty," Rogers said.