Posted by Elena del Valle on January 21, 2009
By Elena del Valle, MBA
Principal, LNA World Communications
In the past months I have witnessed the disappearance of two well stocked neighborhood optical stores and a thriving mechanic shop nearly 20 years in business. One day they were there and the next they were gone. Many people may think that in these days of economic hardship it’s understandable for businesses to fail.
I mention the closings here to make a point about relationships. I did business with these companies. I had my eyes examined and bought glasses at the optical stores and my car was serviced at the shop. More importantly for this discussion, I knew the owners, managers and staff that worked at these places. We looked each other in the eye, we greeted warmly when we saw each other, I asked about their families and gave them my business on a regular basis for months or years.
After they went out of business I only heard from one of them. The former owner of the mechanic shop called to say he was working nearby at a national car repair franchise in case we should need to have our car serviced. The others disappeared without a word. There was no note on the door, no explanation, no farewell of any kind or an apology to their customers.
At the end of the day, we do business with people. They own businesses or are employed by the businesses we patronize. For many if not most of us these people and the way they treat us are the reason we become customers, return and remain loyal over time. It’s those relationships that help make a business grow and a brand thrive. At the same time, when the people at a store or business are unpleasant, behave unprofessionally or leave us dissatisfied we also remember their actions, sometimes for a long time. Their behavior can send us running toward another company, another brand.
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It’s a search for assurance that prompts many of us to rely on brands because we believe they provide high quality, stability and safety. We are confident that our favorite franchise store and name brand products are superior than the alternative. This is why we remain brand loyal until something happens to shake our loyalty. When times are lean and budgets are tight we remain attached to the brand in the hope that we are getting the best value for our money and time. Even if a broader search might reveal a less expensive alternative or better service we may opt for the known brand. As one commercial put it, “The best surprise is no surprise.” After all isn’t that the basis of brand loyalty?
This brings me back to relationships. A few days before the store closed and not knowing they were about to close, I spoke with Michael, the manager of the optical store. He was friendly and said he would call back to let me know when my glasses were ready for pick up. He never called. The next time I saw the inside of the store four days later there were workers removing the remnants of the inventory that had been sold to new owners. I will remember Michael less for all the times we spoke and he was nice and much more because I never recovered the glasses I had already paid for. I blame him and more importantly I am disappointed in the way he behaved. He provided poor good customer service, and needless to say, I lost my brand loyalty.
Negative experiences stay with us for a long time. I know someone who was mistreated by employees at Sears 22 years ago. She tore up her store credit car and has never purchased another Sears product again. My point is that in these times of hardship and economic uncertainty relationship building to create brand loyalty is more important than ever.
According to some researchers, Latinos are often brand loyal. As a market segment Hispanics may be more brand loyal than the average shopper, depending on the product or service. In exchange for their loyalty as customers they want to feel welcome. They seek superior service and are willing to pay more for a product or service if it is accompanied by good technical support and customer service.
If Latinos represent 40 percent of all new consumers, as researchers believe, it’s likely that many new consumers place a premium on relationships and customer service. This market group offers high potential for brand loyalty. Is your businesses prepared to cater to these highly desirable potential new customers? Are you willing and able to establish long term relationships in the hope of nurturing their brand loyalty?
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