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Satisfaction to loyalty – The long treacherous road

It’s interesting that alone, not tied to anything else, the words SATISFACTION and LOYALTY have very separate meanings. One means fulfilment of one’s wishes, expectations, or needs, or the pleasure derived from this, while the other alludes to faithfulness to commitments or obligations. But once you use those words in the context of a transaction, buying and selling specifically, some have been known to expect that the mere expression of satisfaction from a customer means that the job is done. The mere fact that the customer is satisfied, according to most, means that they are locked down for life and are certain to return for a repeat purchase. This unfortunately is not the case, and it may lead to a familiar feeling of disappointment on the part of the seller; whether an individual or an organisational entity.

The mere sensation of satisfaction is one that while extremely enjoyable in the moment, is also known to be very fleeting. That implies that upon the experience of another stronger or more permanent emotion; that sensation will wear off. In a world driven by e-commerce with high levels of competition with similar entities, this means that the same thing sold by someone else, maybe cheaper or of a better quality, will trigger a similar or more aggressive reaction. Therefore it is important that the goal for customer interactions should be retention. And nothing, absolutely nothing else drives retention more than achieving the loyalty of a customer.

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Customer service and experience in itself is an emotional exercise. The experience a customer has in a store or while conversing online with a representative is what is used to judge or ascertain their levels of satisfaction. A typical customer satisfaction (CSAT) survey or questionnaire has most of its questions based around feelings. Questions are usually phrased in the following format:
“How did you feel about our services?”
“Did you feel you were attended to on time?”
“How would you describe our services?”
“What changes do you feel we should make to our business going forward?”

Now, armed with the knowledge of the fact that you are essentially playing a game of emotions, it is important to note that loyalty is not an isolated incident. Sure, you might find yourself loyal to a brand by factors that are separate from you, such as childhood nostalgia or the mere fact that a family member or friend happens to work for the company which produces said item. But in most cases, loyalty is achieved from several incidences of customer satisfaction. It’s like the courtship before marriage. Some marriages happen in less time than others. Some customers develop loyalty faster than others. There is no exact math. There are ways though, to achieve this a bit faster than leaving it to chance or the happenstance that you and most of your customers are related.

Consistency in your deliverables will make you a trustworthy business as this means that come rain or shine, you will be there to help them attend to their needs.
Quick and convenient resolution of issues will set you apart from the ever increasing number of Nigerian businesses who believe that a non-committal “I’m sorry” is supposed to fix everything. Apologies are best when backed up by a way forward.

Pleasant reception and attention is highly sought after by the average customer. Your business can stand out by displaying great inter-personal skills, and this is a competitive advantage as statistics have shown that people are more than prepared to pay more for excellent service.
I must add that customer loyalty is not assured for every single customer that patronises your business. Only a fraction will get to the loyalty stage of the relationship. The plan that is within your control is to try to get that fraction to grow by another fraction for as long as possible. Customer retention is a long game that entails patience, consistency, and an intentional drive to make every customer want to buy from you again.

Oluchi Okafor is a customer experience consultant and has trained and consulted for over 100 SMEs on how to improve their processes, retain happier customers and deliver great experiences every time. She is also the General Manager at Multimix Academy, Nigeria’s foremost supply chain management institute.

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