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Loyalty May Not Be Rational

By: Bill Bleuel


Customer loyalty is not always based on rational thinking. Customers often make decisions based on feelings and emotions. Psychologist Joel Weinberger, an expert in unconscious processes, is also the founder of Implicit Strategies, a consulting firm. Some of their research indicates that when you ask customers such as, “Why are you loyal to the store?” you may not always get an honest answer. The customers are not lying but may not be aware of some of the psychological aspects that drive their loyalty.

Weinberger suggests that loyalty can be increased when a business creates a caring relationship with its customers, which is based on a mutual basis of obligations to take advantage of the possible effects of unconscious implications of the contact. The company needs to treat its customers with respect, fairness and consistency. Similarly the customer on the other hand, needs to be respectful to the company.
Weinberger suggests that unconscious motivations often drive loyalty. While this is a relatively new idea, some of the research being done in behavioral psychology and neuroscience suggest that we often times make decisions based on feelings and emotions. There are two implications regarding loyalty that come out of this research regarding decisions based on feelings and emotions; namely,
  1. First impressions by customers may find one quality appealing and customers will use that impression to extend to other qualities not connected with the initial impression. An emotional aspect of this first impression is that if a customer has a positive predisposition of the brand, then we tend to have a positive predisposition to everything else associated with.
  2. Customers often place more weight on the first piece of information they receive than information contained in a later point in time. Quoting Weinberger, “Everything you learn about someone or something is filtered through the first impression.” Hence, all aspects of the product or service will be directly influenced by the first contact.
The bottom line is that there are a few steps every business should take to accommodate these feelings and emotions of customers that arise from the first contact/impression.
The first obvious step is to go out of your way to offer the best possible deal to first-time customers. You want to make sure that your first impression sets the perspective that you are a good company to do business with.
The second obvious step is to make sure that your customers know you and are familiar with you.
With that second step, and the third step, which is to make sure that you and your personnel are familiar with your customers; namely, build a relationship with each one.
One caveat to remember is the fact that the best deal you offer to first-time customer should be one that you can live with on an ongoing basis. Don’t price yourself out of business.
Related Article: Last Impressions
The old adage that the first impression counts has been verified by the psychological research.
This article was originally published by The Customer Institute
Published: January 12, 2015

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Bill Bleuel

Dr. Bill Bleuel is an award-winning Professor of Decision Sciences at Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business and Management. Dr. Bleuel’s expertise lies in the quantitative aspects of business. He specializes in the measurement and analysis of operations, customer satisfaction, customer loyalty and customer retention. He has held senior positions in engineering, marketing and service management at Xerox, Taylor Instrument Company and Barber Colman Company. Dr. Bleuel has also experience as general manager in two start-up companies that he co-founded.

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