Stew Leonard, Jr. CEO of Stew Leonard’s Dairy Store headquartered in Norwalk, Connecticut, is about as energetic about customers as anyone you can find. He rushes around his stores (now eight) glad-handing customers, soliciting their feedback, ringing up sales, helping lost-looking customers find what they’re in search of, thumping employees on the back, and generally energizing everyone in the place. When he speaks to groups, as he often does, one of his favorite phrases is, “Ya gotta love that customer!”
Why? Consider the perspective of Robert A. “Bob” Peterson, professor of marketing at the University of Texas, Austin. His opinion, based on his research, is that “love that customer” is pretty powerful stuff. For years, Peterson was troubled that so many people were talking about the joys of customer satisfaction, but his research wasn’t showing a very strong connection between satisfaction and retention–repeat business, let alone advocacy. He found that in most surveys of customer satisfaction, something around 85 percent of an organization’s customers claimed to be satisfied with their service but were willing to wander away to other providers if the mood or the price or the color of the advertising banner were right.
Peterson believes that we have undervalued the emotional aspects of customer service; that there is a highly subjective agenda we both fail to ask about in customer research and fail to deal with in service delivery. Only by adding words like love and hate to our surveys, and having the audacity to stand up to the need to incorporate much stronger feelings than like and satisfaction in our company objectives, can we get a handle on this crucial component of customer loyalty.
What are ways to add “customer love” to your customer research? Customers who are satisfied are easily wooed away by a cheaper price, more convenient location, or a minor hiccup. But, those who love you will stay loyal “for richer or poorer, in good times and bad, and, in sickness and in health.”