Inspire Your Customers
COMPANIES THAT HAVE DEVELOPED EXCEPTIONAL CUSTOMER LOYALTY WILL
THRIVE DESPITE THE CURRENT ECONOMIC TURMOIL. BY JIM CHAMPY
I’VE ALWAYS ADMIRED THE OPTIMISM
of economist Paul Samuelson. When
asked about the impact of an impending monetary crisis, Samuelson replied,
“The sun will rise tomorrow, and the
bridges will continue to bear traffic.”
Despite the current world financial
crisis, markets will return and customers will come back. Customers may
change their buying habits and demand
more value in what they buy, but the
challenge for companies will be to keep
customers coming back.
In researching my latest book,
INSPIRE! Why Customers Come Back
(FT Press, 2009), I found many examples of companies that have developed
exceptional customer loyalty. Not only
will these companies survive the current crisis; they will also grow right
Like most business challenges, there
is no single formula for maintaining customer loyalty, but the smart companies
I’ve studied engage their customers by
displaying a higher sense of purpose
and being authentic in all they do.
What makes these companies special
is their fidelity to long-expressed beliefs.
They consistently uphold their own—
and their customers’—values in their
products, services and actions. These
businesses adopt a mix of strategies to
inspire their customers. Here are some
examples of how they do it.
Launch a crusade with broad
appeal. Traditionally, companies have
thought of marketing in terms of a
campaign: Define your product, segment your audience, appeal to each
segment, craft the messages, select the
advertising medium and go for the
customer. That approach is not sufficient to inspire customers today.
You must think in terms of mutual
interests and a common cause, not the
hype and spin of a conventional campaign. You must be seen as an advocate
for goods and services truly worth buying
and using. You must promise value and
excellence—and deliver on that promise.
It’s not a campaign. It’s a crusade.
Consumer companies like Stonyfield
Yogurt and Honest Tea come to mind.
Stonyfield is committed to the environment and respects the environment in
all that it does. Honest Tea has engaged
customers on a platform of good health,
rejecting the notion that beverages
require 10 teaspoons of sugar or chemical additives for good taste. The firm
uses high-grade teas to produce high-quality products with little or no sugar
additives. These two companies don’t
just sell; they inspire their customers.
Deliver layered benefits. Different
customers have different needs and
expectations. So layer the benefits that
you deliver—especially if you are in a
Zipcar does just that. This innovative company, which says it is in
the business of “shared ownership” of
automobiles, places its cars in local
neighborhoods. After “joining” Zipcar
for a minimal fee, members are charged
on an hourly basis for the use of a car.
A user-friendly Web site enables
a member to reserve a car. The reservation travels directly to the car’s
on-board computer via a satellite link,
and the member flashes his or her
membership card to open the reserved
car’s door. Once the member is done
with the car, he or she returns it to its
Zipcar initially offered Volkswagen
Beetles and Honda Civics. Today, it
offers Mini Coopers, Prius hybrids
and BMWs. From the customer’s perspective, Zipcar keeps improving its
Leverage a trusted channel. A channel partner can add to or detract from a
customer experience. Auto dealers come
to mind. Many customers select a car
based on the quality of both the vehicle
and the dealer service and experience.
But companies don’t always pay enough
attention to their channel partners.
Inspired customers enjoy quality in
both the product they buy and their
purchase experience. Consider Member
Health, which leveraged its relationships
with several thousand local pharmacies
to enroll more than 450,000 members
in its prescription benefits program.
The company’s management understands that many people, particularly in
rural America, turn to their pharmacist
first for health care advice. So Member
Health has processes and programs that
benefit both patients and pharmacists. It
even enables participating pharmacies to
give some drugs away for free.
Although Stonyfield Yogurt, Honest
Tea, Zipcar and Member Health are
very different companies, they all demonstrate how you can inspire customers by sharing their values and building
those values into the products and
services your company delivers. 3
Jim Champy is chairman of consulting for
Perot Systems. His latest book is INSPIRE!
Why Customers Come Back.