Customer Loyalty Goes Both Ways

Almost every time I’ve been in a conversation and the subject of customer loyalty come up it inevitably focuses on making customers like us.  “We want a customer loyalty program so that our customers will come back to us and not go to our competition,” an industry executive told me a while ago.

I admit, this is important.  We, as retailers, do many things to bribe, cajole, coerce, and indenture our customers to us (usually in more customer friendly language).  I’ve always have found it strange that we have to give (pay) our customers something above providing them excellent customer service and the products that they want.  If the customer wants to go somewhere else is it worth paying them to come see us?

But that is beside the point and not where I wanted to go with this blog.  I accept, and understand, that the advantage is in making the customer feel special and valued.

However, the other day I was able to witness something that, upon reflection, happens in many of our stores.

We were recently involved in the take over and operation of a large group of stores that had gone into bankruptcy.  We were hired by the bankruptcy trustee to manage and oversee the day to day operations of the retail business, protect and maintain the assets, and to do what we could to grow the business during the time that the court decided what to do with the stores.

Prior to our arrival, there had been a lot of uncertainty amongst the store employees as to what their future held.  Would the stores be closed?  Would they be sold? Would the employees be paid?  It had been a stressful time.  In addition, operations had suffered due to the lack of money to buy products and fix equipment.  It was pretty dire all the way around.

After we had been in the stores for a couple of weeks I had the chance to spend some time with our store managers individually.  I asked them why, with everything that had been going on for the last year, were they still working at the store?  For the great majority of the managers the first answer was not about having a job or needing the money.

The primary reason was that they loved their customers and wanted to take care of them.  It was customer loyalty but it was loyalty to the customer.

I was told how, if there was limited funds to order items, they made sure to stock the things that their favorite customers always bought.  If a product was not available the manager found a way to come up with something similar.

It made an impression on me and made me think back to our employees in other sites and how they put their emphasis on taking care of their customers.  Their customer loyalty is the extra value that the customers receive when they walk into the stores and that is what keeps them coming back.

In the end, loyalty to the customer creates customer loyalty.