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The story of me, Marigold and customer loyalty
2010-02-23: I've never been a fan of dishwashers. I don't like the smell when you open it up to put more dirty dishes in. I don't like the 'extra' job of bending down to load and unload it. I don't like the feel of crockery washed in a dishwasher, and I certainly don't want to pre-wash my pots before I put them in the washer. Then there's the maintenance, the scary limescale buildup and having to care and maintain the dishwasher, and the electricity and water it uses.
So I'd like to say I wash up but obviously I just leave the dishes around the kitchen until it looks like some industrial plant that closed down a decade ago, then I wash up.
Detergent dries my skin and gives me a rash, so I've taken to wearing rubber gloves. Incidentally according to Wikipedia these were invented in the 60s by William Halsted who also removed his mothers gallstone on the kitchen table, turned himself and his colleagues into cocaine addicts by experimenting with its anaesthetic properties and performed the first radical mastectomy.
One day I bought generic rubber gloves. They were slippy. It turned washing up into a risky business, every pot and glass needed a two-hand transfer to safely make it from bowl to drainer. So I decided, only Marigolds would do. They are non-slip. I became loyal to Marigold because they offered something others didn't.
In the meantime, we have rather taken to shopping at Aldi. It's quick, simple, the staff are happy, and the other shoppers are, by and large, polite. However, they don't sell Marigolds.
So yesterday after my thumb had poked through my existing pair for long enough, I set out for the corner shop to buy some new ones and they didn't sell Marigolds, but they did sell Happy Shopper gloves with, according to the packaging, a non-slip grip. Happy Shopper bad, non-slip grip good. I thought I'd take a punt.
Back at home, I'm back to the two-handed transfer. The gloves said they had a non-slip grip, but, well, they may have, but it's nothing like that provided by Marigolds.

Customer loyalty

So where does all that get us? It gets us to the complexity of reputation, branding and loyalty. Clearly I have a strong loyalty to Marigold gloves because I've found I break fewer pots when I use them. I've found them to suit my needs better. Perhaps if people want to clean the toilet wearing Happy Shopper gloves, it matters less if they are non-slip.
Happy Shopper .. well I've never had a good relationship with that brand. I don't think I need to elaborate.
My loyalty to Aldi, of course, has gone down a notch for making me go through all that fuss. And the local Costcutter too .. I'm only loyal to that because it's my closest shop.
But here's the big deal, and it's happening a zillion times a day every day for all of us. I lost a little trust in being sold to. I'd love to think that sales people were primarily good and there to help me find a suitable solution (dream on Allsopp), and that when a package says it has a non-slip grip that means what it contains has a non-slip grip. But it turns out non-slip grips are relative and I bought a product that disappointed. I feel bad about that. And that feeling is transferred to my customer loyalty or otherwise to Happy Shopper.
How do you, as an online business person, get a grip (har har) on the ebb and flow of your customers' loyalty? Most people, even if you asked them, would just grunt "they're shit" at you if you asked how they felt about the rubber gloves they bought last week. Yet, it's really, really important information for you.

Customer loyalty and usability

One way would be to do a usability test. Get a group of people to use your website and report back to you how they felt. Usability tests are amazing. No-one believes me when I say that .. it's something I offer that no-one buys. I think it's because my sophisticated clients think, well, "what can a bunch of ordinary people tell me about my website that I don't already know?" And the answer? I promise you'll be surprised. I promise what they tell you will change your business. I absolutely promise it make your business more profitable. Usability studies make my jaw drop by pointing out what is in retrospect blindingly obvious. But only in retrospect. It gives focus to your efforts to build customer loyalty by reframing your efforts from the customers' perspective.
Anyway, since you still won't do a usability test even though they are quick, cheap, I have usability testers waiting for your business, they'll revolutionise your website and cause peace and harmony throughout this land, you might like to build customer loyalty by checking your numbers.

Building customer loyalty by playing the numbers game

OK, the local Costcutter might be tied somehow to Happy Shopper, but let's imagine for a minute they are not, and they are selling online. They'll be able to measure whether people buy their rubber gloves twice, and compare that to the average re-buy rate for products in their shop. So, what if they try to build customer loyalty by creating a policy of taking the ten products in their shop with the worst re-purchase rate and either replacing them with a different brand, or even better, testing them alongside another brand.
By selling two types of rubber glove and checking what percentage of customers bought the products again, then in the end keeping the winning glove that had the best customer loyalty, they are not just improving the sales and profitability of their rubber gloves, they are improving their brand by providing their customers with what they want. And it may be they clean toilets with their rubber gloves so they want the cheaper glove. We don't know. But we can test and find out.
In supplying what the customer wants, we get fewer bad experiences linked to our brand, and more good experiences. And the customer will be slightly more willing to pop into the shop .. more loyal, in other words. Perhaps they come back for that particular brand of rubber glove they know works for them, and while they are there they buy some other stuff too. And if those other things have been tested among the shop's customers too, we are starting to build customer loyalty.
OK, zoom out. What have we done? We've harnessed our customers to help us improve our shop. Our customers don't know it, we haven't gotten in their way, we haven't asked them to complete a questionnaire or phoned them in the evening or asked them to ring a bell on the way out of the shop. We just watched and learned from their behaviour.
Websites allow you to collect information on your customers like never before. So use it. It's a massive force for good.
It's consistent with the whole social media thing because it blurs the boundaries between us the business and them the customers. Here we've roped in our customers to give us feedback so we can improve our business and build loyalty, and they don't even know it.
I think this comes before pushing into social media. I might, in my Facebook status write "I'm a Marigold man", or "pah, Happy Shopper non-slip gloves are slippy". I might even start a tongue in cheek group called "I use Marigolds". The good and the bad get talked about. Marigolds get my vote. Happy Shopper and Costcutters don't. Better to be doing a good job before courting social media.
Of course, social media can be used to get feedback too, in fact the best way to use social media is to listen, rather than to speak, but that's for another day. For now, two things. 1) Every customer experiences you differently, and you can manage that if you 2) watch the numbers and test everything.
Or you could do a usability test. But you won't. Even though it gives you special powers your competitors won't have.
I am right about usability tests, you'll see.

By John Allsopp
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