April is customer loyalty month in Evergreen, too

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By Jim Rohrer

Each April, we celebrate international customer loyalty month. You may not be aware of that and may not feel particularly loyal yourself. But one local business has been a model of how to develop loyal customers.

As you know, Bleachers clothing store has decided to call it quits. In talking to the owners, Dave and Terri, it was obvious to them that the next couple of years would be difficult for an upscale apparel store. At the “end of Bleachers” gathering at the store a few weeks ago, many of their faithful and loyal customers gathered to honor the stores’ 16-year successful run. Like most rites of passing, it was a bittersweet occasion.

Dave and Terri understood how to build customer loyalty, and that it isn’t a one-month push but an everyday thing. They knew that loyalty is a higher standard than satisfaction. Loyalty is a gut-level thing that causes us to buy, while satisfaction does not.

Our own studies of loyalty show it is developed through three elements.

First, there needs to be a history of successful transactions. Businesses have to be good at what they do. Each spring and fall, Bleachers brought us beautiful and fashionable selections from which to choose. If you are fortunate enough to have a few Scott Barber shirts, you understand how great were the items the two merchants chose for us.

Secondly, loyalty occurs because the organization is unique in something it offers. With the focus on big-box everything retail, Bleachers was unique in its focus on knowing each of us and even those for whom we bought presents. It is unique to be called by name and recognized as an individual rather than “who’s next.”

Thirdly, there most be ongoing and effective communication between a loyalty-successful organization and its customers. In this case the communication vehicle was the fact that the owners were almost always there to greet you personally and engage you in friendly conversation. If they weren’t there, their loyal staff carried on the conversation. I’m sure they were chosen because of their interpersonal skills and their ability to build relationships with the store’s customers.

This model is not so prevalent in business today, but organizations like Southwest Airlines that focus on customer loyalty are rewarded. Southwest is the fastest growing and most profitable American airline. The others continue to focus on merely delivering satisfaction. Many businesses could learn from the success of Dave and Terri. Well done … your loyal customers will miss you.

Jim Rohrer of Evergreen is a business veteran who has succeeded in big, small and medium-size businesses.