Customer Loyalty: Obligation or Happy Marriage?

Consumers cheat on brands in many of the same ways lovers cheat. If you don’t like your spouse, or are bored with pillow talk or household conversations, you can easily go online and “meet up” with someone new behind the closed doors in Skype, Facebook or any other online “chat” room. Pretty much the same way we hook up with new brands.

Brands need to engage with customers on customers’ terms, not via the channels that are most convenient to them. In today’s climate, those terms most often mean “mobile.” According to data from the Mobile Marketing Association, more than 4 million of us in the U.S. have shopped while driving our cars (please stop!), and 9 million during a business meeting. Brands that don’t let us shop via mobile are losing attractiveness. Consider more data from Apptentive that shows that 66 percent of companies that do not have a mobile app experienced a drop in customer loyalty during the past year, and 55 percent of customers who don’t get a response to an inquiry made via their mobile phones are likely to switch brands as a result of being ignored.

Customer loyalty programs that succeed are not comprised of commitment devices, like punch cards and points, but rather interactions that create emotional fulfillment and bonds.


While the most successful marriages in our “real” worlds are those based upon an equal partnership of both parties sharing financial and family responsibilities, it’s not quite the same in customer-brand marriages. Our expectations are high. When we decide to purchase from a given brand, after many hours of “courtship” through research, reading reviews and engaging online with chat agents, we expect the moon when we finally make that purchase.

Thanks to the foundation set by Neiman Marcus a few decades ago, we believe that “the customer is always right.” And we believe another precedent set by Nordstrom’s, that we should be able to “return anything for any reason any time.” Brands that don’t meet these expectations often get discarded for those that will, as we can typically get the same product elsewhere — especially in retail.

However, we brand champions need to find ways to serve others and make them feel we are giving 110 percent to the relationship (even if they give 50 percent); while of course preserving the dignity of our brands and our rights to do business in a responsible way. Brands — like spouses — should hold our ground and maintain respect. Our customer service policies need to be designed to make customers feel appreciated and engaged, and be fair to all involved. When we do this, we will likely generate reciprocal respect. Those who take advantage of generous customer service protocols are likely those with whom we can never have a healthy long-term marriage and in these cases, “breaking up” is a good thing.

Customer service is more than just being friendly and offering to take items back when customers are not happy. It’s about engagement. It’s about listening. It’s about making customers feel recognized and appreciated. All of the time. Customer loyalty and lifetime value are dependent on all these attributes and more.

With close to 80 percent of customers, per Nielsen’s research, choosing not to assign loyalty to any brand, the “dating” race is on, the field is open, and its anyone’s game to win. So instead of marketing to consumers, we need to start courting them by “listening, engaging and serving” in ways that will enable us to have healthy, long-term relationships and many happy anniversaries ahead.

Author: Jeanette McMurtry

Jeanette McMurtry is a psychology-based marketing expert providing strategy, campaign development, and sales and marketing training to brands in all industries on how to achieve psychological relevance for all aspects of a customer's experience. She is the author of the recently released edition of “Marketing for Dummies” (Fifth Edition, Wiley) and “Big Business Marketing for Small Business Budgets” (McGraw Hill). She is a popular and engaging keynote speaker and workshop instructor on marketing psychology worldwide. Her blog will share insights and tactics for engaging B2B and B2C purchasers' unconscious minds which drive 90 percent of our thoughts, attitudes and behavior, and provide actionable and affordable tips for upping sales and ROI through emotional selling propositions. Her blog will share insights and tactics for engaging consumers' unconscious minds, which drive 90 percent of our thoughts and purchasing attitudes and behavior. She'll explore how color, images and social influences like scarcity, peer pressure and even religion affect consumers' interest in engaging with your brand, your message and buying from you. Reach her at

2 thoughts on “Customer Loyalty: Obligation or Happy Marriage?”

  1. I’ve always felt that the relationship between a business and a customer is like a marriage. You court the customer to buy. Once they do, you continue to show respect and admiration as the relationship grows. Unfortunately, many business don’t get it.

    1. Thanks Shep…emotional bonds among the human species really don’t change per the object of our affection. I’ve been preaching psychology to marketers for years and am amazed at how many brands still leave this out of their strategies.

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