Want Consumer Loyalty? Use These Magic Words.

January 3, 2009 · 20 comments

magic-hat

Here’s the no-crap headline of the year: The economy sucks. That’s caused most brands to re-evaluate their marketing mix, re-allocate spending and re-prioritize initiatives. Sometimes the marketing strategy or tactic that makes you stand out, though, can be something incredibly small.

I’ve always heard that you shouldn’t sweat the small stuff. There are times, though, that I disagree. Depending on the context, sweating the small stuff can mean the difference between success and failure. The details matter and paying attention to them can set your brand apart from the competition.

Case in point…

I bought my wife a sweater from jcrew.com a few weeks before Christmas. It wasn’t a large order for the retailer – about $50 total. My wife opened the box when it arrived, pulled out a note card-sized piece of paper, read it, smiled and said “this is nice.” Then she handed it over to me.

The note was “from” J.Crew chairman and CEO Millard “Mickey” Drexler. Here’s what it said:

“We’ve all read the news, and I think it’s safe to say, we’ve seen better times. We understand that now more than ever, where you shop is an important decision… so we just want to say thank you for your continued loyalty to J. Crew. – Mickey”

jcrew-note-2

Of course he didn’t hand write the note, though the font chosen gives you that impression. He most likely didn’t write the copy. He may not have even read it. As a marketer, I know these things. But the note and the sentiment behind it left us with a very good feeling about our purchase and about J.Crew generally. Apparently, the brand has given a few other folks the same feeling.

That’s because the note shows that J.Crew recognizes an important truth. Consumers are making more calculated purchase decisions now, but getting what we pay for is never the only value we want from those purchases, regardless of whether we’re in an up economy or a down economy. We also want to feel that our business is genuinely appreciated.

Often we brainstorm elaborate marketing tactics in hopes they will make a big splash with consumers. That’s not a bad thing, but we shouldn’t overlook the small stuff that can make a meaningful impact. Want to build consumer loyalty for your brand? Let them know you’re thankful for their business. The easiest way to do that, ironically, is to simply say “thank you.”

Turns out our moms were right. Good manners like saying “please” and “thank you” can take us far in life – and our brands, too.

  • Have you been impressed by a company – small or large, local or national – that won you over by paying attention to the details that too often get overlooked?
  • What did they do?
  • What are other small things brands can do to win consumers in this down economy?

*Image of Magic Toy by Georgios Karamanis. *Image of J.Crew note card by David Mullen.

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Sonny Gill January 3, 2009 at 10:17 pm

That’s a great story David, though wish companies did this ALL the time and not just because of current happenings.

Nonetheless, these small things make a huge difference in brand perception and ultimately creates great word-of-mouth for them. WOM is simple, cost-effective and just takes a bit of effort but more so, truly caring for your customers.

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2 davidmullen January 3, 2009 at 10:22 pm

sonny – i hear you on doing this all the time, not just because of the economy. this should be a mindset, not just a marketing initiative.

You’ve outlined the benefits well. Cost effective it is! How much do you think they spent per printed piece? Couldn’t be much if printed in bulk and there’s no postage charge because you’re dropping them in online purchase packages. But it makes a strong impression.

Seriously, I think we overlook the little things too often.

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3 Paul J Roberts January 3, 2009 at 10:40 pm

David,

I’d seen Crutchfield do the same thing a year or two ago. That type of “genuine appreciation” goes a long way to build a relationship with your customer.

Then as Sonny stated, the WOM factor starts to take root.

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4 Arik Hanson January 4, 2009 at 2:29 pm

Great example of one brand getting it right–despite their recent stock plunge: Caribou Coffee. Each day I navigate the drive-thru for my cup of light roast I am greeted with a cheerful “Thanks for stopping at Caribou, how are you doing today?”

Not “What can I get you?” or “How may I help you?” but simply “How are you?” To your point, simple, easy and honest. A personal connection. And a relationship builder for a brand trying to win customers in the competitive retail coffee market.

On the flip side, I ardently avoid brands who DO NOT pay that extra attention to the customer. Macy’s are you listening? I’ve rarely had a salesperson assist me while I’m in-store shopping with the nationwide retailer. Now, could just be the store I visit (although it is at the Mall of America–you’d think they would make sure that outlet has top-notch customer service) but I’m skeptical. Amazing how a few easy, simple steps can make all the difference.

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5 Liz Short January 5, 2009 at 12:03 am

I love your articles, and I couldn’t agree more. I’m shocked that most of the retailers and employees don’t even know the mission statements of their organizations. Do you believe that you walked into a J Crew, you would get that kind of courtesy? Perhaps. But how much better would people feel about spending money and time shopping if the face of the organization, be it the CEO or the lady behind the perfume counter (depending on the audience), if they, the retailer, not only knew the mission of the organization, that most likely values friendly interaction, but also works to fulfill it?

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6 Matt Batt January 5, 2009 at 9:47 am

Thanks so much for sharing this example from J. Crew! I had something similar happen to me last week from VistaPrint (where I get my biz cards). Granted, it wasn’t their CEO or even management, but it was a “live” voice (perhaps from India but…) thanking me for my recent order and to make sure that I received everything and was happy. Actually, she wouldn’t get off the phone until I told her I was completely satisfied! I don’t recall who tweeted this in the past couple of weeks, but it was something along the lines of, “in 2009 we need to convert the PR to People Relations.” This couldn’t be any more true…especially based on this blog entry. David, thanks for your leadership and for sharing.

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7 davidmullen January 5, 2009 at 9:50 am

@liz – you’ve got that exactly right. in the end, most consumers only interact with the employees on the other side of the counter. it’s incredibly important to nurture employees so they know your mission and, even more importantly, how to deliver it daily.

@matt – great example from VistaPrint. thanks for sharing it. I recently wrote a post on “The ‘P’ in PR should stand for People.” is that what you’re thinking of? here’s a link: http://davidwmullen.com/2008/11/21/people-relations/

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8 Richie Escovedo January 5, 2009 at 9:58 am

This is a great reminder of customer service. It is so easy to forget these little things. You are right, the details can make or break the deal. You never really know when the smallest thing will come back to help or haunt you.

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9 sarahmontague January 5, 2009 at 10:23 am

I received something similar from Save the Children. It was a nice note from the Executive Director and a link to go to a web site where I could print out a certificate that I could put in my son’s room. (I signed up my three-year-old son as a sponsor/pen pal to a child in Nepal).

Simple thank-you’s are so important. Especially when they are from people (with real name attribution vs. customer service departments)

Sarah

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10 Scott January 5, 2009 at 11:15 am

I totally agree that please and thank you are words that we need to hear more. The little things are important.

So, thank you David for posting this note and will you please read this http://www.spiritualtramp.com/2009/01/almighty_heroes.html and tell me what the *$*()$# the manufacturers/marketers were thinking? ;-)

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11 PRJack January 5, 2009 at 11:30 am

So very true David… so very true. If someone goes out of their way – or even makes it seem so – to make my patronage seem important and valued, then they’ve won my loyalty.

But here’s a turn on that. Imagine a utilities company who holds a monopoly over an area such that there is no option to get service any other way (save creating your own solar/wind farm). A company like this has no need to treat it’s customers in any special way. If nothing else, doing the little things well not only builds loyalty and trust, it’s part of establishing good corporate citizenship – part of the overplayed, but still valid, CSR gambit.

What’s boggling is when a company in this position apparently is self-satisfied that they do the complete opposite.

Let’s say it’s a utilities company in the ‘hypothetical’ city of _Oakville_, Ontario that provides _hydro_electric services. When responding to customer queries about simplifying payment options the response shouldn’t make the consumer feel like they’ve just been robbed and are being forced to say thank you for the robbery. And responding to comments of ’so, since you are a monopoly you can just do things however you feel regardless of what’s better for customers?’ shouldn’t be met with ‘Yes. That’s right’.

Nothing makes a consumer feel worse – especially in these times where we’re all angling for an edge. And the resulting hill to climb to get back to respectability becomes long and steep indeed.

The bottom line… never ignore how you treat your customers. Not just because they keep you in business, but at some point you may be counting on them. Just ask the Big Three automakers.

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12 Billy Fischer January 5, 2009 at 12:15 pm

David – Great reminder. It’s made me stop and think about each of my clients and simple things they could be doing. I mostly see this effort from the small companies, the ones without the big marketing budgets. It’s too bad that I’m having a tough time thinking of an example from a larger brand. Here’s for hope in 09!

Billy

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13 Stephanie Skordas January 5, 2009 at 2:14 pm

David,

I have to give a shout out to Chick Fil A. Hands down, they have the nicest drive-through and counter folks around. I’m sure it’s corporate policy and all, but whenever they hand me my food or get me a refill and I say “thank you”, they give me a genuine smile and a “My pleasure” in return. The morning drive thru folks are especially cheerful and I always drive away smiling.

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14 Kathryn January 5, 2009 at 3:13 pm

David,
Great post! As a born and bred Southerner, I am all about the pleases and thank yous and truly believe that good manners will get you far (or at least farther than you would have without them.) I recently worked with a local company – Transit Graphic Advertising – who won my loyalty with great service, handwritten thank-you notes and even a gorgeous gift basket at Christmas. For any future mobile advertising needs, they will be the ONLY company I call.

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15 Ahmnodt Heare January 6, 2009 at 10:22 am

It’s the “little things in life” that makes people happy. A nice breeze on a hot day or a token of appreciation can go a long way.

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16 Melanie Thompson January 7, 2009 at 5:55 pm

The important thing about jcrew’s efforts was they weren’t self-serving to the consumer. The note didn’t pitch for more business or even offer a coupon to get the person to come shop online. It was simply a Thank You. No more. Sometimes you have to do efforts that are solely about your target audience and not what they will gain for you (even though sometimes those efforts bring the biggest rewards).

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