Loyalty and how to increase it

Why do we talk about loyalty ‘programmes’ when loyalty has a lot to do with softer attributes such as trust, devotion and affection . If you don’t like to talk about feelings look away now…

Many businesses fall into the trap of thinking about loyalty in a mechanistic way. Reward your client, the thinking goes and they will respond with loyalty. So there are points systems, special offers, discounts and promotions that aim to create rewarding experiences.

Yet price doesn’t always play much of a role in loyalty, especially in veterinary practice. his type of loyalty is called behavioural loyalty – for instance when your practice is the closest to where the client lives. Shops where goods are sold very cheaply can also have high levels of behavioural loyalty but very low levels of satisfaction and affluent customers may be less loyal as they can afford the cost of making a mistake and so will shop around.

It’s clearly a complex business. Emotional loyalty is slightly different in that it tends to be conjured up from a mixture of those soft attributes – the sort of attributes you see in a dog when you have a shared bond and where you have built up the relationship using techniques such as reward based training. Recognition, encouragement, praise and making every contact as positive as possible, being reliable and showing you can be trusted over a sustained period of time – all of these things are necessary before loyalty can be established.

We feel emotional loyalty when the decision really matters. In fact, many clients bond most closely with the practice after one of the most emotional experiences: euthanasia of a much loved pet. Handled well, it’s often the experience when clients see the compassionate side of veterinary staff and when clients are most vulnerable and exposed. It’s easy to lose sight of all the other times clients might feel like that because it’s less obvious to us – when they secretly fear a cancer diagnosis or are worried that an illness is their fault.

Don’t get us wrong, we do have a VIP scheme where we recognise loyal customers and reward them but we never forget that it’s a mechanic and it’s the customer experience that really matters. Acting in a way that shows we can be trusted and offering support from people who are expertly trained (some are veterinary nurses) and who can empathise with pet owners, is vitally important.

Loyalty makes good business sense as it is commonly quoted that it will cost four to ten times more to attract a new customer than keep an old one. Loyal customers also recommend you to others. It’s very difficult to feel loyal without feeling a little bit of love too. Let’s think less about the end game and more about how to make them feel special.