Acting More Human Boosts Customer Loyalty

Customers want their relationships with companies to have the same qualities they value in their personal relationships–qualities like trust, respect, empathy, openness, and reciprocity, according to C Space CEO Charles Trevail.
What’s more, Trevail said acting more human will be a sure path to long-term success.
C Space released its third annual Customer Quotient™ (CQ) report, which effectively evaluates companies based on their ability to display good, human relationship behaviors and connects the strength of those behaviors to a company’s financial performance, unlocking customer inspired growth. The study found that businesses that act more human outperform those that don’t–gaining more customers, increasing loyalty, and improving the bottom line.   

Trevail talked to Loyalty360 about this intriguing report.

Customers want their relationships with companies to have the same qualities they value in their personal relationships–qualities like trust, respect, empathy, openness, and reciprocity, according to C Space CEO Charles Trevail.

What defines a ‘human’ brand and what makes it customer-centric?

Trevail: Put simply, companies that outperform their competitors have learned to act more like their customers–to take on desirable human qualities in their actions. They are incorporating what we think of as good relationship behavior into their business practices. They are building customers into the ways they work to create more relevant actions that influence their customers’ buying decisions and the company’s business performance.

These leading companies have become customer-centric by acting more human. They have changed the way they think about and partner with their customers. And they are outperforming their competitors by doing so.

The five customer imperatives describe behaviors that customers actively seek from companies. They tap into the desires humans seek in their own relationships–whether it’s with a person or with a brand. For example, the ability to “make me feel good” is one of the most basic necessities in a successful relationship, yet is something major brands often fail to deliver on for their customers. For most people, emotions drive decision making, and a brand that makes their customers feel smart, proud, and respected, that creates a sense of belonging, will be the one they return to again and again … and the one they tell their friends about.

What makes these five customer imperatives the most important for loyalty marketers?

Trevail: Many companies use Net Promoter Score (NPS) to assess the health of their brand and the willingness of customers to recommend a company’s product or services to others. And most companies have assumed that focusing on the rational and functional aspects of the business that are easy to measure and change is the surest way to improve their score and deepen customer loyalty.

However, C Space’s Customer Quotient (CQ) research reveals that the relationship behaviors identified by the CQ model–historically unacknowledged in brand measurement–can do a better job of reliably predicting customer loyalty and advocacy than rational or functional variables, alone. These more emotional behaviors, such as making customers feel respected or proud–have a stronger influence on NPS than qualities such as cleanliness, speed, or other operational friction points in the experience.

CQ’s five customer imperatives (Make it worth it; Make me feel good; Be open; Know who you’re for; and See it my way) provide a framework–from the customer’s point of view–for how a company can drive loyalty, advocacy, and, ultimately, growth by, quite simply, “acting more human.” Based on three years’ worth of data, this research shows that companies who act more human outperform those who don’t– gaining more customers, increasing loyalty and improving the bottom line.  

What are brands doing well in this area of customer relationships and where do the challenges lie?

Trevail: Some of the brands we found to be the most human this year include Royal Caribbean, Olay, REI, St. Jude’s, Wegmans, and L.L. Bean. These brands, and others are excelling at being intuitive, understanding, and capable of translating key customer imperatives into action, demonstrating the key relationship behaviors that drive loyalty, advocacy, and growth.

For example, Panera Bread has used industry-leading technology to streamline the ordering and in-restaurant experience but took an understanding of its food-savvy customer base to dial up the desire by removing all artificial ingredients from its menu. Netflix’ pioneering, on-demand video streaming platform eliminated the time and hassle of a round trip to the video store, but it was its human insight into binge watching that transformed the experience from a simple night into a crave-able event.

As these examples show, hitting all of the functional check-boxes is simply not enough to earn loyalty in a marketplace where things like speed, quality, and connectivity are increasingly table stakes. In brand after brand, we see that what really differentiates is the emotional connection, the ability of a brand to create desire, passion, and joy around its products and services. Taking a holistic approach, where both rational and emotional variables are understood and assessed, is the surest way to drive key outcomes–guiding companies in how and where to focus, prioritize, and optimize investment in the customer experience.

Another common thread among the companies that earn trusted status with customers is they often show a bit of their own humanity–their purpose, their values, their way of doing business–to build a sense of authenticity and create a deeper connection beyond the transaction. Being a more human business involves all of the people that you employ–from the CEO down to the front lines. Corporate culture, employment practices, social responsibility, and perceptions of leadership were all key factors when consumers discussed their passion for their favorite brands.  With consumer trust in business at an all-time low, knowing what the human beings at a company care about and stand for can go a long way.

The challenge here, in an age of radical transparency, is that every misstep or values stance is open to public scrutiny and backlash. It requires a certain amount of brand fortitude to “Know who you’re for”–and who you’re not for. But staying close to customers–indeed, building them into the way you work–is the surest way to hone the customer intuition necessary to know what actions and messages will resonate, and which will repel. And building a foundation of trust and transparency provides a measure of grace when something goes wrong–after all, to err is human, and a more human brand will be granted more permission to make mistakes, provided it handles them in a way that’s equally authentic.

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