Business Success Turns on Customer Loyalty - Commercial Appeal - 8/3/2011

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

By James Dowd

As a self-professed Apple aficionado, Darren Lavelle admits that his allegiance to the house Steve Jobs built hinges more on personality than product.

In other words, Apple's focus on providing exemplary customer experiences creates such intense brand loyalty that Lavelle sticks with the company even though he could get similar gizmos from competitors at lower prices.

Lori Turner-Wilson, co-founder of the RedRover marketing agency, tells the quarterly breakfast meeting of the Greater Memphis Chamber's Small Business Council that businesses need to tailor their communication with successive generations so it will be meaningful to them.
And it's Apple's customer-centric personality that Lavelle believes more businesses need to emulate, especially in today's challenging economy.

"Customer service shouldn't be a department. It should be a companywide philosophy," Lavelle emphasized during a business workshop presented by the Greater Memphis Chamber's Small Business Council on Tuesday. "All of your employees need to act like owners and be empowered to solve issues quickly. To keep customers coming back, you've got to delight them."

Lavelle, vice president of customer service at Mimeo, and Lori Turner-Wilson, co-founder of RedRover marketing agency, were keynote speakers at "Together We Thrive in 2011." The event, held at the Racquet Club of Memphis, drew about 100 small-business leaders.

"There's a difference between a satisfied customer and a loyal customer," Lavelle said. "A satisfied customer may go to your competitor just to get a better deal, but if you attract loyal customers, then they're more likely to stick with you regardless of what other companies offer."

And it doesn't even have to be a major sale or deep discounts, Lavelle said. DoubleTree delights its hotel guests with free chocolate chip cookies, while Zappos similarly pleases its customers with next-day delivery.

That's an effective strategy for any business regardless of industry, said Lee Still, vice president at Trust One Bank.

"It's important to offer 'delighters' or little perks to your clients to make them feel appreciated and excited about doing business with you," said Still, Small Business Council chairman. "It's important to convey a sense of trust and make customers feel important."

And doing that means targeting consumers with appropriate marketing, Turner-Wilson added. Generational differences between, say, a 60-year-old baby boomer and a 40-year-old Gen-Xer are significant, and companies should take those characteristics into account.

"To be effective, you need to understand the audience you're trying to reach," Turner-Wilson said. "To sustain your business, you need to reach out to successive generations and communicate with them in ways that are meaningful and resonate with them."

And that should be a basic building block for any company, said small-business owner and chamber member Susan Mealer.

"First you have to know your customers before you can know what it takes to keep them loyal," said Mealer, owner of national call center Answering Advantage. "They have different needs and wants, and the successful business owner pays attention to that."

-- James Dowd: (901) 529-2737