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Tue 15 May 2007 10:54 AM

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Loyalty: a sticky subject

Mideast firms offer customers the mere satisfactory, rather than something more, says Alexander McNabb.

There are a number of challenges that face those in the business of building customer loyalty, something that is distinctly lacking in the region.

The biggest is a customer's tendency to say one thing and do another. You might admire company X because it sponsored the school trip, but you're still likely to buy our product or service from company Y because it offers more.

Another great truth of loyalty is that it does not equate with satisfaction. We constantly betray the satisfactory in favour of something better. An interesting bit of semantic play is to be had here. How many times have you heard people talking about customer satisfaction - and yet is 'it was satisfactory' really the resonance we want to achieve from our customers?

The other problem with the loyalty business is that, if we accept that negative expectation met with a positive experience is the essence of an ascendant brand, it always has to be better than last time.

Happy customers want more in order to stay happy customers, in other words. And that's only right, because happy customers that stick with you are more profitable, and a better and less expensive source of new business, than customers that are churning because they're constantly expressing that most basic disloyalty: voting with their feet. There is, in other words, a valuation to customer loyalty.

So you'd be forgiven for expressing some surprise at how little companies in our region appear to value the whole concept of customer loyalty.

To address this, local companies could start by investing more in customer communication. This should be structured to generate business, increase stickiness and build customer transaction rates, rather than just being a tack-on to some other process. Giving customers the benefit of your organisation's resources and expertise - which adds value at marginal cost to yourself - should be an integral part of that offering.

Now the trick here is that you need to know more about the customer before you start bombarding them with information. Besides a vast number of basic data gathering methods, there are a number of other, automated, ways of finding out more about customers.

Many professionals in the loyalty business have a tendency to use explicit data gathering tools such as customer surveys, but few appear to have evaluated the implicit data gathering resources represented by thinking such as Web 2.0 (user-generated content and the power of social networks).

By combining increased use of online networks, building an eco-system of 'fellow travellers' - companies that have an interest in your customer base but that do not compete with you - you can drive a relevant message through the most appropriate medium for the customer. And that can move your business beyond the satisfactory to truly enhance loyalty.

Alexander McNabb is group account director at

Spot On Public Relations

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