If you are running a business, what would you rather have, satisfied, happy customers or loyal customers? I suspect many might say that the idea of a satisfied customer seems like the right visual in their minds eye. Some one who is pleased with the experience they have just been through, leaving the store with a smile on their face and contentment with their purchase. Trouble with that is that your in business to make money. I know, I know, the standard mantra is that satisfied customers will come back again and again. That may be true, or maybe its not.
Loyalty and satisfaction differ in one significant respect: action. Satisfaction is defined as a feeling about a past interaction or set of interactions. Satisfaction is fleeting and does not translate to actions on the part of the customer. This is where loyalty differs. Loyalty is focused on the buying behavior of the customer. Research by the Corporate Executive Board (an industry benchmarking research company, www.executiveboard.com) discovered that loyal customers were more likely to behave differently in three ways:
1. Recommend the supplier to others more often
2. Increase purchases
3. Partner with the supplier on new opportunities
To contrast, Satisfied Customers
1. Purchase based on price
2. Purchases remain steady or decline
3. Will readily jump to competitor based on price, availability, or negative experience
4. No partnership on new development
So which of those sounds like the customers you want? I don't know about you but give me loyal customers any day.
So whats the difference? Is there a difference? Turns out there is a difference. A satisfied customer is merely a spectator in the operation of your business. What I mean by this is that their involvement is more superficial, more circumstantial, and more subject to change at a moments notice than the loyal customer.
Ever had a conversation with a die hard car brand enthusiast? There is no swaying them from their brand, and if you press hard enough strong emotions and maybe some fists will fly. That's loyalty. They know all of the gory little details that make their brand the best. They are in it up to their eyeballs. Satsified customers really do not know much about the brand they have purchased, and as such, do not have a strong attraction to it.
I'll relate a personal experience. My wife owns a General Motors car. The now defunct brand has been problematic from the beginning. I have owned various General Motors brand vehicles over the years. Some have been pretty good, but none have been great, none have wowed me in the areas that matter most to me. I have been a satisfied customer, but not a loyal customer. Now back to my wife's car. Like I said, problematic from the first, but thats not the end of the story. We have owned problematic cars before from other brands (not GM) and I would consider owning one again if I did my homework and found their quality and engineering to be good. I will never allow another GM product into my garage again though. To say that I am a dissatified customer of GM is a vast understatement on par with saying that World War 2 was a minor disagreement between friends. Never, I say, NEVER will I own another GM. Why such strong emotions on this brand? It was not the problems alone that caused it, it was the problems and the fact that they could not be solved in 6 (count them 6!) tows to the dealer, it was the problems and the tows and the lack of fixes, and the moronic engineering that makes it so I can not change a burnt out headlamp, and the poor structure that required suspension work normally reserved for cars older than decade.
In short, my several ownership experiences with this car have led me to conclude that as a company GM is not competent at what it does...build and sell cars. The entire experience has been awful, thoroughly and completely awful. Interestingly enough though, I may never have arrived at this conclusion were I not a die hard car brand enthusiast for another brand. About 8 years ago, I bought my first Japanese car, a Subaru. Now let me say that I didnt get the whole "Subaru Love" thing for the first couple of years, but after we bought my wife's car, I started to notice all of the things that I did NOT have to do to my car. In 8 years, nothing but regularly scheduled preventive maintenance. If the headlamp goes out (which it has) I can replace it myself in about 10 minutes for about $20. No ball joints needing replacement after 60,000 miles, no intermittent electrical outages. No problems at all. In my entire car buying adult life, I have never owned a car this well put together, this well thought out. In short, I am a very loyal Subaru customer.
So this little story brings us to the essential element of loyalty versus satsifaction. I'll give you one guess which brand my next car will be, and one guess which brands it will not be. Subaru will be rewarded with my money in short because I see that they are competent at what they do and I am loyal to them for it.
So, which kind of customers do you want?