Life of Business

Loyalty: A Sum of All the Parts

BY ALEXEI ORLOV

Mr. Orlov, a world-renowned expert in automotive marketing and agency turn-arounds (most recently with the digital / CRM agency RAPP), discusses the importance of an authentic customer experience in a world riddled by lazy marketing.


Clients — and in turn their customers — judge with ruthless and surgical precision, and they believe through the power of their purse that they have that right. They may speak well of good things, but they absolutely will scream loud and wide if they believe there is an intensive, dramatic story to tell.

Trust is such a crucial part of empathy — indeed, without it, it is meaningless. Mistakes will happen, but it is in the manner of how they are acted upon that separates chaff from wheat.

Most times, it is the people who are employed by the brands who do all the damage — little moments of pique, moodiness, carelessness, rudeness — and all the work and effort that came before, gone in a flash.

Happy people inevitably “glow,” whilst those who are disaffected invariably go on to upset the balance. There can be no greater damage to a brand than misplaced promise and tardy customer experience.

No customer will stand for being made to feel like a second-class citizen. Brands that prove to be fair-weather friends cause themselves tremendous damage — after all, bad news, like an airborne virus, travels fast.

Often we feel like clients could show a touch more gratitude. Not that they mean to be ungrateful, they just do not have the time nor the inclination to pander to agencies. Indeed, the mindset between clients and their own customers is much the same: my money — which I am passing on to you — so be grateful to me!

The single most telling reasons why brands falter are because of acts of arrogance and “economies of truth,” when often, all it takes is a good dose of timely common sense and humility. Customers feeling that they have been let down or wronged is never a good thing. Nothing is more upsetting than to feel orphaned, left to one’s own devices.

For clients, regaining lost ground is a deadly offense. When things go wrong, that is where the “charm or char” of a brand truly becomes apparent. This was cruelly evidenced when the mighty Volkswagen brand had to defend itself when it became known that it had cheated by providing dishonest claims around many of its diesel-run cars.

Customers will magnify. It is the nature of people; it is better, then, that they magnify because they believe. Belief is everything. And respect only comes from trust earned; living up to promises.

The one thing that brings people back to a business time and time again is trust. It has many guises. They may not actually use the word trust — but the codicils are clear: “quality is always there,” “does what it says on the tin,” “always a fair price,” “can rely upon the service,” “I believe.”

Agencies / brands / companies / relationships only thrive through singular care.

Singular care is often not easy, but a successful reputation is worth that effort.

Businesses should never allow opaqueness or ambiguity to be their reputation; taking the alcohol out of the drink turns the cocktail into a mocktail. Once trust is lost, it is hard, if not impossible, to earn back.

Say what you mean to do. Begin as you mean to finish. Finish as you promised.

Can “love” be found within the ambit of any brand?

When people say they “love” a brand — or clients say they “love” their agency — it is usually just a euphemism that holds very little sway or true sustainable value. Passion is a love bite, not true love.

But however they feel about a brand or business in general, they do want to be recognized for their custom. Loyalty and love are profound emotions ‹ terribly misunderstood and abused in business; when asked to explain “loyalty,” many just blink.

The first immutable fact is this: “customer loyalty” is about positive disposition — customers will transfer loyalty at the drop of a hat. In commerce, “loyalty” is never given freely, nor does it exist without expectation of reward.

Consider this:

  • Customer belief is everything.
  • Pursuit of perfection. Trust. Recognition. The absolute pillars behind why people return.
  • It’s all the small moments of care that become the sum of all the parts — it’s that, that creates universal distinction.
  • Loyal customers represent 90%, sometimes even more, of the profits of most businesses.
  • Loyalty in business is never free. It thrives on quick returns, perceived value and appeasement. They will defect if they are disappointed.
  • Mistakes will happen. But it is the manner and the way of putting them right that defines the compelling truth behind a brand or a business.
  • If product is “king,” then customer care is the “kingdom.”
  • Customer care only matters if the care they get is the care they want.
  • Say what you intend to do. Begin as you mean to finish. Finish as you promised.

– Alexei

Mr. Orlov served for a period of time as the CMO for the Volkswagen Group of branded cars in China; however, he was not in any way associated with the diesel scandal.

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