The Loyalty Ladder: Trust >> Loyalty >> Advocacy

Loyalty needs to be earned. It is rarely built in a single transaction and like anything else worthwhile, loyalty takes time to earn. Each and every experience you have with someone, even the smallest of interactions impacts the speed at which you earn trust and build loyalty with them. A useful contextual model I have been leveraging for decades with my clients is to think of the generation of loyalty as a ladder which has to be climbed where each micro-experience functions like one rung on the ladder. Each touch point is an opportunity to move your customer a rung on the ladder.

The Loyalty Ladder

Every phone call, face-to-face or digital transaction your customer has is an opportunity to incrementally improve or degrade your customer’s loyalty. One great example can be found when your customers are trying to get an issue resolved with your product or service. Research from Nixon and Delisi demonstrates that when a customer is forced to simply switch between the phone and the Web to resolve an issue, it degrades loyalty by about 10% with each interaction. These micro-experiences can be incredibly impactful on the relationship.

As your customer moves up the ladder (with your hard work), they will cross different thresholds which describe their relationship with you.

The Trust Threshold: The first major threshold on your customer’s journey is the Trust Threshold. This is the point where you have earned enough trust. You have earned some tactical success when they pull out the checkbook for the first time and commit to buying something from your firm. It is the first real major milestone in your relationship with your customer. The goal leading up to the crossing of this threshold is to compress the rungs on the ladder as much as possible without damaging this fragile, new relationship. Provide your prospect, soon to be customer, with powerful micro-experiences with your firm which give them solid value and you will accelerate the earning of trust.

Once you know they are interested in your product, analyze how they are making their decisions and work to maximize how you are earning trust in each and every possible step in the process. Everyone wants their customers to buy faster, but your customers are always going to buy at their own pace. If you try to push them to buy faster through shady sales tactics or manipulation, you may win the transaction, but you will not serve the longer term goal of creating a an advocate. You will not build a sustainable, long-term relationship. Measuring and work to improve the “Speed-to-Trust” with your strategic investments.

Contrary to what most people believe, trust is not some soft, illusive quality that you either have or you don’t; rather, trust is a pragmatic, tangible, actionable asset that you can create — much faster than you probably think possible. — Steven M. R. Covey in “Speed of Trust”

The Loyalty Threshold: Your customers cross the Loyalty Threshold when they determine for themselves “you are their vendor of choice.” If they need what you sell in the future, they are coming to you. Think about how this applies to our personal lives; we do it with our plumbers, our accountants and our mechanics. As long as they do a great job, we will not even consider looking elsewhere.

There are four factors which contribute to building loyalty for your brand.

  1. Being consistent and trustworthy over time. Keep your Say/Do ratio as close to 1/1 as possible.
  2. Reducing your customer’s effort. Laziness always wins.
  3. Handling service disruptions efficiently and effectively. People value imperfection with integrity way more than they value a perfect façade.
  4. Meeting real human needs. When you sustainably meet needs beyond the value expected, you will earn authentic loyalty.

Look at every transaction and experience point in your customer’s journey and focus on these four factors to find ways to make each experience loyalty enhancing. Think about how technology can be deployed or experimented with to improve each experience to speed their journey up the ladder.

The Advocacy Threshold: With enough good experiences, your customer crosses the Advocacy Threshold. This is the point at which they are willing to, and do, go public with their relationship with your product or service. It may come in the form of a referral, an open offer to be a reference account, an unsolicited Facebook like or a LinkedIn endorsement. When they have been intrinsically motivated to align themselves with your product or service, this is the most powerful tool in all of marketing. Getting your customers to cross this threshold as quickly as possible should be the most important job in your business development efforts.

Once your customer crosses the “Advocacy Threshold”, they have made an investment in your product, your service and your team. This is a clear indication of the following:

  1. They are much more likely to forgive your shortcomings. The rungs in the loyalty ladder become much more resilient once a customer crosses the Advocacy Threshold. They are personally invested in you and some part of their reputation is on the line. They care about what happens to your brand and they have said so to their friends and colleagues.
  2. You have a self identified community of passionate customers who will help you improve your product or service. If you do focus groups or user studies, this should be a key pool of resources for you to consider leveraging. These customers should also be your beta population when it is time to roll out new software experience.
  3. It is the best marketing you can possibly get. They will be a referral and will help you to grow your business. If anyone ever asks them for help in your domain, the lead will come to you.
Micro Experiences Matter

Don’t take advocacy for granted. Treat your advocates as though you intend to maintain a one hundred year relationship with them.

Technologist. Philosopher. Inspirer.