Do truly loyal customers actually exist? I argue the answer is no.
Before you start quoting Steve Jobs and proclaiming your allegiance to the almighty Apple, please consider this:
The fans of Netflix were die-hard, once upon a time. But with the emergence of other streaming services like Hulu Plus, Amazon, Redbox Instant and Crackle, once-loyal Netflix customers are switching to services that better suit their changing tastes and needs. Once the king of streaming video, Netflix is now struggling to remain a major player in that market.
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Commercials claim generation after generation has banked at Bank of America, so why wouldn’t we? Thanks to the #occupy movement, many big bank customers are still defecting to smaller banks and credit unions.
This even happens with social networks. Specific, smaller communities like Foursquare and Jelly have been staking a claim among the Facebook masses and making it easier to cross over by addressing more specific needs and preferences.
Customers are constantly reevaluating not just your product, but the entire experience. We are kicking the tires and walking up to the shiny car in the lot to kick its tires, too.
Loyalty, as we once knew it, is dead.
Customers, for the longest time, were trapped. Switching was such a pain it kept many of us stuck in limbo – not really satisfied with our experience but not really feeling enough pain to initiate an upheaval. Now, the barriers are breaking down, and typically a 5-minute sign-up is all it takes to enjoy the spoils of becoming a new customer elsewhere.
I’ve found, with most organizations, it is too difficult to keep evaluating the competition. New companies are the ones who do this best. They explore the marketplace, find a demand or source of pain, and exploit the missing piece for customers. (Ironically, Netflix is a great example of this, too.)
Companies, however, get fat and happy while ignoring the truth. Your product is no longer cutting-edge. Your experience is lackluster and dated. But, you still have lots of loyal customers, right? Don’t be fooled. When you push evaluation and innovation to the back burner, big changes in customer expectations are brewing while your competitors stir the pot.
There will never be a “good” time.
So how should you make this a priority? As Customer Experience Investigator™, I’ve heard all the excuses for why continued (and honest) evaluation gets tabled. I get it. You are already in overtime. Your job is very demanding. Your boss is nagging you for that report that requires 2 calls to Tokyo and a massive migration to a new CRM system. Who has any down time to explore what’s happening on the outside?
The smart companies, the ones who continue to delight their customers past that honeymoon start-up phase, are the ones who prioritize and perpetuate the evaluation. Not only must you keep evaluating your experience, but you have to keep an eye on your competition, as well as changes in customer needs and expectations.
Remember stories of the Pony Express? They were hailed as heroes (rightfully) because they delivered mail. Now, the USPS is pushing enhanced and more specialized services to compete with other parcel services like UPS and FedEx. Our expectations have changed. It happens, and it will keep happening.
Evaluate. Innovate. Repeat. Remain curious, paranoid and forever investigative. The absence of constant evaluation means your competition will beat you to the punch when addressing the ever-changing expectations of your customers, and it will be the nail in your coffin.