We hear about “customer loyalty” and “employee loyalty” and I have trouble fitting these concepts into my brain. “Loyalty” – to me – is a very important virtue. It says I will support you even when it’s difficult for me, even when I don’t want to, even when it is against my best interest. Loyalty – again, to me – is two way: you bleed for me and I bleed for you. Perhaps it’s because I hold loyalty so dear I find it offensive when it’s watered down and treated as a one-way relationship.
“Customer loyalty” seems to mean that I simply prefer your products and services and choose them over others. Not much virtue in that. I might prefer your brand because of what I think it says about me or because of quality or price or because your business happens to simply be convenient for me. Calling it “customer loyalty” implies that the customer is at fault if they shop with a competitor. Yet, am I “disloyal” – is there infidelity – if I purchase elsewhere? No, I’ve made no commitments to you. No, oaths or vows. You provide a product or service. I exchange money for it. You make a profit and I gain a product or service I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) provide by myself. That’s the extent of our relationship.
I received an email a month or two ago from one of the universities I attended. They thought it would be swell if I thought I should send them a check. In fact, they thought it would be swell if I thought I had an obligation to send them a check. The email actually stated: “Your support of [X University] signifies your loyalty and belief in the university, its traditions, and the power of [X University] to impact the world.”
I have a difficult time writing my thoughts about that sentence without using a lot of swear words. “Signifies”???? Signifies to whom? Who’s going to know? Am I signifying my loyalty to their accounting department? My “loyalty and belief”?!? Did I take a blood oath when I graduated? Was I knighted? Did I swear any kind of allegiance to the university’s traditions? What traditions?
Here’s the extent of my loyalty and belief in the university: I gave them money, they let me attend classes, and after a certain number of classes they gave me a degree. It’s a business transaction. An exchange of money for services.
I understand that some (many? most?) people feel a connection to the university they attended. It might even be a part of how they identify themselves, of how they think about who they are. Which makes that email all the more offensive. It’s preying off of people’s desire to be virtuous and loyal, yet providing nothing in return, not even a t-shirt or window sticker for their car. They want me to think I owe them something – that I must continue to prove loyalty – because I chose to attend their university over a decade ago. That’s a manipulative one-way relationship and the very definition of servitude, not loyalty.
This was just an example, but how often do we do this and think our customers or our employees “owe” us something out of “loyalty”. They owe us money for our products or services, they owe us work for their paycheck. AND we owe them products or services for their money, we owe them a paycheck for their work. But once the debt is settled, it’s settled.
The best companies get this. The companies with the best reputation for customer service focus on better serving the customer’s need versus focusing on figuring out how to better get the customer to serve the company’s needs. That’s a key distinction. They know that if the customer was “disloyal” the problem is with the company, not the customer.
Hopefully our customers and employees stick around, but it’s up to us to earn their loyalty daily, not assume it or insist on it.
What thinks you?