Focusing on Customer Experience is Foundation for Building Emotional Loyalty

While analyzing data to determine a customer’s buying patterns is elemental to building a loyalty program, it is just the beginning. Customers want more than savings and coupons; they want to be heard. In today’s markets, it is more important than ever for brands to deliver an interactive and personalized customer experience. That is how they will earn emotional loyalty.

Loyalty360 spoke with brand members to discuss the topic of emotional loyalty, its traits, challenges and the role front-line workers play in fostering emotional loyalty.

Questionnaires and Research Essential to Implementing Early Stages of Emotional Loyalty Campaign
“Emotional loyalty is driven much more by interactions than the things people receive,” explains Dave Andreadakis, Chief Innovation Officer, Kobie. “Brands should focus on the experience they are trying to create rather than the thing they are doing. As they lean into understanding the customer, they will better appeal to the inherent emotions that keep these customers loyal. This is especially true during a program launch.”

At Cheetah Digital, Tim Glomb says that the number one thing brands should be doing as they explore emotion-based strategies is poll their audiences to understand what they care about most. “A simple sweepstakes offering your own products/services as prizes, or other products/experiences that enhance your own products with your consumers, is a great offering that can be promoted via email, paid, social, in-store POP, etc.”

By drafting a few brief questions as part of the entry, the brand can ensure the answers will provide the information needed. Multiple choice questions gather structured data that not only inform the marketing team, but also can be used later to personalize email/SMS/website messaging when the program rolls out. 

ICF Next suggests brands foster emotional loyalty by gathering rich, first-and zero-party data on customers and then actioning on that data to deliver elevated, personalized experiences. Says Denise Holt, Partner & Line of Business Lead, Customer Strategy, Experience + Insights, “Our strategic approach to loyalty program design begins with getting to know our clients and their customers first through a series of stakeholder interviews, detailed brand assessment and competitive audit, an analytics deep-dive and segment exploration, and more. This allows us to build strategies and programs that work to cultivate rich connections between our clients and their customers.”

Let’s Get Personal
Loyalty cannot be won by points alone, and brands that earn a strong emotional loyal following tend to connect with their customers on a personal level.

Says Rachel Iannarino, Vice President, Marketing & Client Experience, Baesman, “Brands who get personal and build impactful one-on-one connections with their customers tend to build emotional loyalty better than those who don’t. They use personalized marketing strategies to listen to, respond to, and build trust all without being too intrusive.”

First, customers want to be heard. Today’s customers are informed and have a wide range of options when it comes to which brands they will emotionally invest in, but they expect brands to personally invest in them as well.

According to Deloitte:
  • 70% of consumers believe a brand relationship includes providing feedback, and they expect that feedback to be heard and drive action.
  • Nearly half of the customers surveyed stated they love it when brands bring up their last interaction.
  • Two-thirds expect brands to use their feedback in upcoming products and services.
Customers want to feel they’re in a relationship with brands where their opinion is valued. They want to feel both seen and heard.

Iannarino explains that brands that truly connect on a personal, emotional level are also careful to be responsive yet not intrusive. If customers desire interaction or lodge a complaint, they expect a response within 24 hours. At the same time, while customers desire a responsive, deeply personal relationship, they also are cautious of brands knowing too much about them. Brands that build emotional loyalty are great at gathering data but also knowing how to use it in a non-invasive personal manner.

Lastly, trust is imperative. Brands that build relationships with customers are great at providing superior customer experiences consistently. Brand consistency throughout the customer journey is of utmost importance to maintain trust and emotional loyalty.

Holt agrees, stating that brands that share a deep, emotional connection with their customers tend to have a more holistic understanding of how they fit into their customers ’lives—what those customers need from the brand to make their lives easier, better, or more fulfilling.

She says, “Through our Humanizing Loyalty research, we uncovered the six key drivers of emotional loyalty—trust, reliability, appreciation, empathy, investment, and shared values. Consumers want to feel good about the brands they invest in. Successful brands lean into empathy, deliver a value exchange that deepens their connection with their most loyal customers, and are purpose-driven to reflect the values of their customers and communities.” 

At Cheetah Digital, Tim Glomb says that successful brands recognize actions their customers take that are non-transactional. “They trigger thank you emails and SMS messages when someone browses their website, or opens their app after, say 5 times or once every 30 days, even if they didn’t buy something. They also give their customers a forum of sorts to allow like-minded customers to connect. That can be on social using hashtags or groups, along with possibly in-store events.”

The opinion is unanimous, with Andreadakis saying that brands with emotionally loyal customers are brands that connect with their members outside of the transaction in a meaningful way. Brand transparency and value alignment often play a role as well, as customers can create a reciprocal relationship with the brand based on shared values. 

Prioritizing Emotional Loyalty is Key
Emotional loyalty is at the forefront of many brands’ priorities, but the challenge is moving forward with the goals focused on emotional loyalty while balancing conflicting priorities.  

Cheetah Digital has seen the change in shopping experiences post-COVID with consumption patterns shifting heavier into digital channels. Says Glomb, “It’s all about ‘relationship marketing’ right now, which means brands must get into a conversation with customers, on a one-to-one level to gather psychographic data to both inform their personalized responses and help design their emotional programs.”

Getting that feedback allows businesses to then create touchpoints that drive an emotional connection beyond the transaction.

Kobie sees brands that value emotional loyalty but rarely try to influence or measure it at the customer level. Says Andreadakis, “The key to prioritizing emotional loyalty is to understand the tradeoffs customers are willing to make for it (it’s not insignificant!).”

In recent years emotional loyalty has gone from a lofty goal to mission-critical for most brands. Explains Holt, “Getting there is easier said than done but keeping people at the core of everything your brand does is the key to success.”

Every customer is an individual, even if they behave like a particular segment. The segment does not define the individual shopper. Holt continues, saying, “They have a vision for their life, ideas on how to get there, needs, and wants—all those innately human qualities. Goals that are centered on your customer and building emotional loyalty will naturally balance conflicting priorities and help you deliver on measurable outcomes for your business.”

Utilizing the Proper Tools to Measure Emotional Loyalty
Earning emotional loyalty is one challenge for brands, but measuring it is quite another. While the tools are available, brands must also be careful about which specific KPIs and metrics matter most when measuring the emotional impact of their loyalty program.

Kobie has a tool called ELS®, Emotional Loyalty Scoring, that measures total customer emotional loyalty, the drivers that influence that score, and customer willingness to trade off emotional treatments for transactional benefits.

Glomb takes a different approach, saying, “Engagement is the key. Forget open rates; focus on actions your customers take, non-transactional specifically. Get technology in place to understand who is opening your app, walking into your store and browsing your website. Centralize that data to measure and benchmark across segments, regions or other unique factors to your business. If you can centralize the data and intelligence, the engagement figures (clicks, swipes and visits) will show themselves and you can set standards for KPIs.”

At ICF Next, they have determined that emotionally loyal consumers find it hard to remove the brand from their daily lives—in essence, the brand is woven into the fabric of their customer identity. Says Holt, “Measuring this kind of loyalty can be challenging and just looking at metrics like CLV (customer lifetime value) or NPS (net promoter score) won’t give you the full picture.”

The company recommends engaging directly with customers to see where they stand, how they are feeling about the brand, where the company is delivering the most value and meaning, and where there is room for improvement.

Holt adds, “This is also an opportunity to collect valuable information in the form of zero-party data that can be used to power more personalized experiences that resonate deeply with your customers and engender the level of loyalty and advocacy your brand is seeking.”

How Brands Retain Emotional Loyalty During Uncertain Times
Many businesses are still navigating the challenges of the pandemic, including supply chain disruption and worker shortages. These obstacles are challenging for businesses to retain emotional loyalty, and the brands that have successfully navigated these difficulties and were able to still deliver a positive customer experience were the ones who came out on top.

Kobie witnessed brands that stayed connected with customers at the emotional level versus offering more discounts fared much better during Covid. Adds Andreadakis, “In some cases, it also allowed companies to come in and scoop up customers that weren’t being paid attention to. It is a great test case to the importance of emotional connection.”

Glomb encourages brands to “Own your hiccups and be proactive on how to communicate them to your audience. Today’s consumer wants to build trust with their favorite brands and that sometimes means letting them know your issues and how/when you will be back to your standard of service. Using email, direct mail and social to opening convey this builds trust, just as being forthright benefits you in personal relationships at home or in the workplace.”

Employee Training is Critical to Success of Emotional Loyalty
Front-line employees play a key role in a brand’s emotional loyalty strategy. With proper training and incentives, brands can ensure those employees become advocates of the loyalty program. 

ICF Next emphasizes the person-to-person interactions customers have with the brand in playing a key role in building and growing emotional loyalty. Front-line employees should enhance the customer experience by helping customers feel seen, known, and valued. Those traits are vital to building and maintaining emotional connections.

It begins with a robust training framework through which employees gain a deep understanding of the brand, how it is differentiated in the marketplace, and what the customers expect. They can then learn how to can deliver experiences that exceed those expectations, build trust, show appreciation and demonstrate empathy.
Iannarino agrees that the customer experience is the most important key to building emotional loyalty, saying, “The customer experience includes all touchpoints and interactions customers and potential customers have with your brand from the first time they hear about your brand to their initial purchase all the way through loyalty.”

Front-line employees are at the forefront of this experience. PricewaterhouseCoopers cites that in the U.S., even when people love a company or product, 59% will walk away after several bad experiences and 17% will walk away after just one bad experience.

“This is why it’s critical that all levels of your organization understand your brand promise and voice,” Iannarino adds.

Regardless of the level or role, it is imperative that all employees understand the brand promise and can articulate it to provide a consistent experience from marketing to point of purchase and beyond. From personalized emails to SMS to direct mail communications, the same level of brand messaging should be carried out at all touchpoints.

Brands need to clearly convey the purpose behind the program and the benefits to the core business so that employees understand the value of implementation. Glomb emphasizes, “It’s not just about bottom-line revenue, it’s about the health of the brand.”

A brand with healthy customer relationships creates a more enjoyable experience between customers and front-line workers. That rings true for brick-and-mortar experience between staff and customers as well as online and phone transactions. The more the employees understand, the better they will deliver the brand experience.

Andreadakis adds, “The most impactful thing a brand can do is to educate their employees on the different drivers of emotional loyalty. This will help them create the experiences needed to keep customers coming back without having to rely on a script. In some cases, brands have been able to display a digital signal to employees as they serviced their customers… allowing them to differentiate the experience on the spot.”

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