A customer loyalty lesson learned from my friend’s emergency trip to the hospital

A friend of mine works at a Starbucks not too far from my house. I’ve known him for several years and he became a barista at Starbucks maybe a year or two ago.

Well, earlier this week he was rushed to the hospital because his lung collapsed. He’s been at the hospital ever since, sometimes returning home but frequently staying at the hospital overnight for observation. He seems to be doing okay, although we’re not yet sure why his lung collapsed.

Now here’s what shocked me: I just found out today that some of his Starbucks customers came to visit him in the hospital.

That’s impressive customer loyalty! In fact, that goes beyond customer loyalty to a true relationship!

Loyal customers are profitable customers. They buy again and again with very little prompting, and they talk up the business to others.

I’ve found that creating customer loyalty is rarely something that happens at the business level. It happens at the employee level. Customers may become loyal to businesses (and a lot of Starbucks customers are loyal to Starbucks!), but customers more frequently and more easily become loyal to the people in those businesses.

So, are you helping your employees create customer loyalty?

  • Give your employees the freedom to stop and chat with customers. By comparison, a lot of retail-based companies take the approach “if you have time to lean, you have time to clean”, and their staff rush around cleaning instead of pausing for a moment to strike up a conversation with a customer. The downside is that your employees might not get that counter as clean as you’d like it. The upside is higher profitability from customers who feel that they have a relationship with the person behind the counter.
  • Give your employees the tools to strike up a meaningful conversation and build a relationship. Not everyone is socially savvy, so a few conversation starters is a good way to help your employees.
  • Give your employees the freedom to go the extra mile for customers. They do anyway (everyone learns how to game the system to give a little extra to those extra-special customers) so why not help them by giving them lots of ideas.
  • Give your employees the authority to fix mistakes. Nothing takes away from loyalty-building like an employee who says, “I have to call my manager to fix that for you.” Help them know what challenges they will likely face and what an adequate response those challenges might be, then give them the authority to fix it.
  • Give your employees a reason to be proud of the company they work for. Do good things; make a good product; strive for high quality; smile a little and try to brighten your employees’ days.

When you have employees who love where they work and are empowered to fix things and have the freedom to build relationships, they will create massive amounts of customer loyalty.

There’s are risks that comes with this employee-specific customer loyalty, and I think that employers are so afraid of the risks that they skip the loyalty-creating ideas I’ve listed above.

The risks include:

  • Employees who create customer loyalty and are empowered to do so become more marketable and therefore potentially less loyal to an employer.
  • Customers who are loyal to employees may move with an employee if that employee quits and moves to a new business. We see this happening in industries like beautician/hairdressing, where someone moves to a different salon and advertises that old customers are welcome at the new salon.
  • Employees could abuse the additional freedom (intended for relationship-building) or authority (intended to fix problems).

These are risks, but the downside created by these risks can be mitigated with fair pay, empowering management, and an enjoyable work environment. Sometimes you will get employees leaving, customers following them, and employees abusing the system. But more often than not, you’ll get customers who become fiercely loyal to the employees who serve them.

How loyal are your customers? Are they so loyal that they would visit one of your employees in the hospital?

Published by Aaron Hoos

Aaron Hoos is a writer, strategist, and investor who builds and optimizes profitable sales funnels. He is the author of The Sales Funnel Bible and other books.

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