thinking like a customer

thinking like a customer

The Meaning of Loyalty

By on November 12, 2008

Loyalty is a historical word, rooted in feudal times when allegiance to the sovereign was fundamental to the success, perhaps even the survival of the state. The Oxford Dictionary's definition of the word "loyal" is:

True or faithful (to duty, love or obligation); steadfast in allegiance, devoted to the legitimate sovereign or government of one's country.

On that basis, why should anybody be loyal to any business organization? What legitimacy does the enterprise possess? Why do its customers have any duty to show allegiance to it? Of course they don't, and the more the education, confidence and power of consumers have grown, the more they realize it. In fact, in the twenty-first century it is the other way round. It is the customer who is king and the supplier that needs to be loyal to its customers!

Since it is now widely recognized that it is much less costly and much more profitable to keep existing customers than to win new ones, customer retention has become a major goal for most organizations. Numerous companies have adopted the idea of customer loyalty to spearhead their retention strategies, but it is very doubtful whether the loyalty concept is fully understood or effectively implemented by many who embrace it. These organizations will not be successful in retaining their existing customers without first developing customer commitment and an attitude of devoted attachment.

In a 21st century context, the translation of the Chinese version of the word for loyalty may lead us to an interpretation that is more appropriate for product and service providers than the European version.

During the 12th century, the Song Dynasty of China was under constant invasion by the Jinn Dynasty, the ancestors of the Manchus. When Jinn troops captured the Song emperor and his father, the Song people were humiliated and mobilized to fight off the Jinns. The general who led them was Yue Fei. He was a great leader who was never tempted by an extravagant lifestyle. He led an extremely disciplined army that would do anything for him. He had the Chinese character representing loyalty, shown above, tattooed on him. As he went into battle, he remembered his mother's words about being loyal to his country, which drove him to fight for his king and to sacrifice himself for his country in the end.

The character literally means, "from the center of the heart." That accentuates a more emotional side of loyalty and it is a more fitting way to describe the relationship with your leaders and which embodies a sense of purpose. The character for loyalty is a very important concept that influences Chinese people deeply. And the word, Zhong, has gradually become a more widely used word, meaning to be loyal not only to your country, but also to a person, a community, a company, or an organization.

In today's competitive markets, organizations must deliver a meaning that captures the heart and soul of their customers. Loyalty has to be driven by a deep connection between customers and their suppliers-not some feudalistic allegiance or obligation that is founded on inequality between organizations and their buyers. It is the serious misunderstanding of the loyalty concept among managers and senior executives, which has been responsible for the many misguided strategies that have been devised in the name of securing customer loyalty. Whether you are the leader of a country or a company, loyalty has to be earned.

How will organizations continue to attract increasingly educated and confident customers and keep them committed? The answer is simple-thinking like a customer. When organizations embrace the need to connect with their customers and to lock in their hearts and emotions to their brand, then they understand the true meaning of loyalty.

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