How to Conquer the Loyalty Threat: Three Remedies for Search-and-Switch Customers


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What, if this very minute, one of your best customers is on Google, comparing you against the competition and contemplating a switch. Will your brand pass muster and prevail or, instead, get kicked to the curb?

That’s the daunting scenario playing out countless times a day for most brands. Sadly, many firms are ill-equipped to address this big, new loyalty threat and they bleed high-value customers because of it.

Here’s a quick look at three search-and-switch remedies:

1. Ace Your Buyer’s Worth-It Test

Your buyers are human calculators of sorts, constantly accessing your brand’s worth against other choices. In a search-prone world, how do you consistently score a big ‘yes’ on your customer’s worth-it assessment?

Job No. 1 is to define your buyer’s next best alternative (NBA) and trump it. Just ask Nick Swinmurn, founder of online shoe seller Zappos, who launched his company in 2000 thinking that his customer’s NBA was other online shoe sellers. Swinmurn soon realized the online shoe market was too small and that the Zappos customers’ NBA was a brick and mortar shoe store! This revelation required Zappos to overhaul its business model and find innovative ways to deliver extreme customer value. Zappos did just that and in five short years after the company set its sights on bricks-and-mortar shoe stores as its customers’ NBA, sales skyrocketed from $8.6 to $300 million.

But pinpointing your buyer’s NBA is just half the battle. Job No. 2 is to identify your brand’s most compelling worth-it message and then anchor it in the minds of prospects and buyers. Yet, many firms unwittingly commit worth-it suicide through one or more of the following communication traps. They:

  • Flood customers with a ton of benefits rhetoric expecting them to sort through the rubble and connect with what matters to them
  • Operate on the flawed notion that customers are rational beings who cannot resist a sensible selling proposition
  • Depend on customers to simply “read between the lines” to identify the brand’s worth-it benefits
  • Complicate the worth-it message making it tough for customers to articulate it to others
  • Think they know the benefits customers truly care about, when in fact , they do not

2. Manage your Customer’s Switch-O-Meter

Customer switching behaviors are complex. That’s why the right metaphor can help you get a grip. Think in terms of a Customer Switch-0-Meter that resides in your customer’s head. The needle on the meter constantly reflects the temperature of the brand’s attitude pool in your customer’s head, and can swing from a cool, calm (lowest likelihood to switch) meter reading to hot, eruption prone (highest likelihood to switch) reading. Your goal is to manage these dynamics and keep the customer’s attitude temperature about your brand as cool (i.e. positive) as possible. You do this by proactively managing your customer attitude “drips.”

Think in terms of a Customer Switch-0-Meter that resides in your customer’s head.

For example, when passenger Bob Emig’s Southwest Airlines flight suffered an arduous five-hour delay due to icy weather the airline unleashed a flow of cool, loyalty-building drips to offset the hot, repressing ones. The pilot walked the aisles, providing constant updates and answering passenger questions. So did flight attendants. When Emig returned home, the loyalty-building drips continued. A letter of apology from Southwest arrived within a few days, along with two free-round-trip ticket vouchers. Says Emig, “They gave me a gift, for all intents and purposes, to make up for the time spent sitting on the runway.”

It’s never been easier to manage customer’s switch-o-meter thanks to the in-depth customer research of Dr. Christine Nordman and Dr. Ira Roos. My newest book, Taming the Search and Switch Customer shows you easy ways to build switch prevention tactics around their insightful academic findings.

3. Keep your Brand Compellingly Different

To keep customers from switching, your brand must consistently trump competitive comparison. The importance of this cannot be overstated. Yet, most firms do a lousy job at infusing their brands with compelling differences and instead, manage innovation in an ad hoc way.

Not at Amazon, which spends a lot of time looking ahead. Yet, curiously, while most firms are preoccupied with spotting the next big thing, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos offers contrarian advice on scoping out new opportunities. Says Bezos, “It helps to base your strategy on things that won’t change… At Amazon, we’re always trying to figure that out… All the energy you invest in [these things] today will still be paying you dividends ten years from now.”

Whatever switch prevention remedies you pursue, make sure they are grounded in time-tested loyalty principles. With today’s big bias on “new,” it’s tempting to dismiss these fundamentals. But, here’s an undeniable fact: more and more breakthrough technologies will evolve. The best way to leverage these exciting new tools is to ensure they are applied to plans and programs that embrace strong loyalty principles. Otherwise, your probability of real success is limited.

As Willie Nelson croons, “It’s time to get back to the basics of life.” Search-and-switch remedies are no exception.

It’s never been easier to tame your search and switch customers! Taming the Search-and-Switch Customer: Earning Customer Loyalty in a Compulsion-to-Compare World is chocked full of practical, easy-to-use steps, checklists and case studies that show you exactly how to tame! Use the Ten–Day Starter Plan on pages 244-245 to quickly get started putting into practice the hundreds of guidelines and examples outlined in the book. Learn more about the book here.

Jill Griffin
Griffin Group
Jill Griffin is a "Harvard Working Knowledge" author of three books on customer loyalty. She serves as public board director for Luby's Cafeterias, Fuddruckers and Jimmy Buffets' Cheeseburger in Paradise restaurants. Microsoft, Dell, Marriott Hotels, Ford, Toyota, Wells Fargo, IBM, Subaru are a few of the clients served since she hung out her "Loyalty Maker" shingle in 1988. Jill delivers customized keynotes worldwide. Sign up for her monthly loyalty tip at


  1. Jill, the points you make are excellent at ensuring you are “competitive” in the eyes of your market. However, loyalty to my mind isn’t build on a feature-by-feature basis. It exists where your audience understands your company’s “story” (not just its value, but its values) and feels a part of it. Southwest Airlines is a great example. While they are viewed as a “low fare airline” and that is an important part of the company’s story, they have built a loyal following of travelers who frankly don’t care if they have the lowest fare to Dallas this afternoon.

    This is not to discount the points you make…probably fewer than 10% of any organization’s customers would be considered “loyal beyond reason,” so it is important we acknowledge that we need to stay competitive for the sake of the other 90% who, while satisfied, are prone to being pilfered.


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