Customer Loyalty

Guest blog post by
Jack Kenny

Jack Kenny writes about the label industry. For 16 years he served as editor of Label & Narrow Web magazine. Write to him at

Look up customer loyalty online and you will find scholarly studies, countless references to CRM (customer relations management), and other buzzy topics that make sense to statistics majors. If you’re Coca-Cola or Frito-Lay, the relationships you have with your customers certainly could warrant a few hundred spreadsheets. If you’re a regional business, you probably have a more homegrown approach to loyalty.

We are all customers of telecom providers. Their idea of loyalty is famously backwards. New subscribers get discounts and freebies, and long-time customers get rate increases. When you call them up to say that you are thinking of leaving unless they can offer a better deal, you get either peanuts or nothing. After you sign up with a competitor, the offers roll in. “What can we do to bring you back?”

Many businesses on a level somewhat lower than the phone company try to get human about customer loyalty by focusing on incentive programs and such remarkable concepts as “customer touchpoints.” In an article titled “11 Key Customer Loyalty Trends for 2011”, included the following: “A recent IBM study with over 1,500 CEOs from across 60 countries and 33 industries discovered that ‘getting closer to the customer’ is a top business strategy and area of focus for these CEOs over the next 5 years. In fact, 88% of the CEOs surveyed said this was a key area of focus, followed by 76% saying that ‘insight and intelligence’ is also a key area.”

This makes me shiver. “Getting closer to the customer” is a top business strategy and area of focus for 1,500 CEOs. Hello? If you are not already close to the customer then it’s a wonder that you have remained in business at all. In fairness, I can’t criticize big companies too much because I’ve never run one and never worked for one, though I often wonder how they get anything done. (And if you noticed the abuse of the word “key” in the paragraph above, please join me in abandoning it.)

Earlier I mentioned the homegrown approach to loyalty. In most places around the world, the business relationship is personal. Suppliers long ago learned how to get closer to the customer. The skilled manager and salesperson understand the customer’s needs and wants: the essentials of marketing and manufacturing, the costs of logistics, the vagaries of supply, the impact of labor. This understanding can form the underpinning of loyalty.

The real test, of course, is the timely delivery of quality products at a manageable cost, over and over again. Achieve that, and keep your customer.

I cannot leave this topic without mention of another ingredient in the loyalty recipe. Love is a word we don’t read or hear in any business formula or discussion. Love might be awkward for some business people to embrace, but its branches might be more comfortable: respect, listen, help, join, share. My friends at Creative Labels of Vermont understand love, and they will tell you that it is the foundation of their devotion to customers, and the source of the loyalty that they have earned.

It’s worth thinking about in a quiet moment.

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