It seems like we’ve been living in the digital age for a long time now. In fact, it’s hard to remember a time when we weren’t on social media or using a smartphone.
Digital has significantly changed how we interact and connect with people. And it goes the same for brands: The consumer relationship has evolved dramatically over the last decade.
Brands, brands, everywhere brands
Back in the 1930s and 1940s, customer relationships were primarily built on the strength of the brand advertising that people saw on billboards, in newspapers and magazines, or on TV shows. Today, brands are everywhere. Experts estimate that an average person in the US is exposed to between 4,000 and 10,000 ads per day!
Brands have become more immersed and pervasive in our daily lives – just look at the cult-like following brands such as Apple, Tesla, and Nike evoke. People line up overnight for the newest iPhone. They wear their logos. Harley Davidson devotees are even known to tattoo the brand name permanently onto their bodies. It shows the serious, long-term commitment consumers have with the brand and how they identify with it so intimately.
Brands are getting even closer to us. It’s not uncommon for a brand to align with the issues and topics that matter to individuals. Nike has been a supporter of marriage equality going back to 2000. More recently, a number of companies, including Delta Airlines, MetLife, Best Western, and Hertz, have cut ties with the NRA, taking a position on the divisive issue of gun control.
Brands have come a long way from billboard images off in the distance. They are now entities that evoke strong emotions from their customers.
Brand relationship assessment: The love bank concept
So in a world of constant distraction, how do brands forge long-lasting relationships with fiercely loyal customers? The key is understanding that every interaction a brand has with a customer can add or detract from their relationship. Each touchpoint and experience can either build or deplete this connection.
Psychologists call this concept the “love bank” when helping couples work through relationship issues. It goes like this: You want to keep depositing good experiences into your love bank account so it always has a surplus. These deposits can be big or small, like complimenting your partner, or buying a present for no reason at all. The bigger the effort, the bigger the deposit.
Likewise, withdrawals are events that lead to negative feelings in a relationship. These could be situations that appear to be small, like forgetting to pick up the dry cleaning. Or really big, like having an affair.
It’s the adding and subtracting of these positive and negatives that determine a relationship’s status. A negative bank balance and you’re in trouble. If the bottom line of your account is growing, your relationship will continue to flourish.
Similarly, every interaction between a brand and a consumer can add or detract from building or ruining the relationship.
For frequent flyers, an upgrade to business class would be a fantastic deposit of these “emotional units” into a brand’s love bank with a consumer. As a customer, you’d be thrilled with the special treatment, and more likely to feel a stronger affinity towards the airline. Or you might get a free drink and snack when you fly economy. It won’t elicit as big of an emotional response, but you’ll still have a positive feeling toward the brand.
Likewise, negative interactions will risk the relationship. Getting bumped from a flight for example, or not providing great customer service when a connecting flight is missed. You risk failing to meet customer expectations, and with your competition just a few clicks away, these types of mistakes can ruin your entire customer relationship with that consumer.
As consumers have more and more interactions with a brand, these deposits and withdrawals accumulate. Just like in a personal relationship: when you start dating, it’s light and low-key. As you go on more and more dates, and spend more time together, things start to get serious. As consumers spend more time interacting with a brand, the level of connection grows (or depletes), depending on the quality of the time they’re spending.
What can brands do to grow their love bank with customers?
The question for brands is what can they do to build that relationship with customers?
Last year a Consumer Insights Survey, canvassing 20,000 people across 20 countries globally, aimed to understand what customers expect from brands.
What information are they happy to share as consumers, and what behaviors from brands do they like or dislike? The results have helped hone the actions that brands need to take to grow the love with their consumers.
Stop that! Behaviors brands should avoid
None of these behaviors should surprise anyone, but what needs to be emphasized is how much they annoy consumers. Calling or emailing customers with sales or marketing messages bother as many as 61% of those surveyed in the US. Consumers see their time as precious, and being cold-called or spammed doesn’t add to their day (from their point of view). It’s an annoying interruption that can lead to negative feelings towards a brand.
Although these actions don’t mark when a consumer will breakup with a brand, they do take away the value of positive interactions while depleting the emotional connection a consumer has with a brand.
And then there are the actions that will push a consumer to end a relationship with a brand. Breakups can happen when a series of small disappointments add up, or from major events that ruin trust, even causing pain.
The number one cause listed for breaking up with a brand is unauthorized use of data (selected by 79% in the US). Recent events with Facebook highlight how important trust is between consumers and brands. Trust is the backbone of relationships between people as well as with entities, so treat consumer data with care, as this will become ever-more important.
Another big pain point is unresponsive customer service, which US consumers ranked nearly as highly as data misuse. There are so many ways for customers to connect with brands that they don’t understand why they don’t get a quick answer to a query.
The Consumer Insights Survey results showed not only that consumers expect a quick response from brands, but they’ll end the relationship and go elsewhere for this exact reason.
Three ways to build consumer trust and customer loyalty
The flip side of these results demonstrate how brands can build customer loyalty, trust, and, eventually, advocacy. There are clear ways to strengthen customer relationships and tip the scales in favor of your brand.
First, reward them for connecting with you. Customers love being surprised and getting gifts. Develop a loyalty structure that rewards customers for positive behaviors. This will help to add worthwhile deposits into your love bank with a consumer.
Second, use data for good. The information you collect from customers should make their interactions and experiences with your brand personalized and valued. If you go to the trouble of gathering data from a customer, make it worth their while.
Third, offer great CX across all touchpoints. Make sure customers have great, personalized experiences with your brand at every interaction. Many consumers receive excellent service through sales and marketing channels. If they have a problem and call your customer service or billing department, be sure they encounter the same consistent customer experience they’ve come to expect – no matter where they come in contact with your brand. A single customer view should be available to everyone in your organization, ready to be used.
Personalized CX + rewards = happy customers
Consumers are fussy and demanding when it comes to choosing brands. They have the power in the relationship and are not afraid to use it.
That’s why it’s important to start making as many deposits into the customer love bank as you can. Interactions should be personalized and make them feel special. If brands want to feel the love, they need to put in the work.
In my next post, I’ll explain in detail some of the behaviors customers look for in brands to grow the relationship and develop advocacy. And we’ll see a real-life example of how brands like Palladium Hotel Group and ASICS are delivering a personalized experience and bringing their consumers closer.