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Don't Imitate – Innovate!

In today’s professional world imitation is much more common than innovation. And, in case you haven’t noticed, this doesn’t bode well for your email inbox.

One of the basic pillars of customer experience is that successful interactions build customer loyalty. Somewhere along the line this concept was misconstrued and, in pursuit of customer loyalty, more and more marketers are using emails as interactions – and the more, the better.

In a recent article, Harvard Business Review boldly stated that only 23% of customers want to have a relationship with a brand. The remaining 77% of the 7,000 surveyed customers are irritated by the bombardment of emails.

So, is there a way to build loyalty with the 77%? Probably, but it’s not through just promotional email offers. They are looking for more. They want to know about changes you’re making based on their feedback. Tell them something that improves their life. Or, better yet, show them that you have shared values. Here are some ideas for communicating with the 77% in a way that builds loyalty.

Walk the walk. Some customers simply want to know that their feedback has value before they will continue offering their valuable opinions. How many surveys have your customers completed for you? That feedback has served your company in so many ways – adding new programs, improving processes and creating a customer-centric culture. How do you tell your customers about those positive changes? Some companies report these changes by sending a customer letter from the CEO each quarter. Others develop a website that catalogues these improvements so customers can track changes.

Prove your commitment. Knowing that a company has a customer experience program and is genuinely working to improve things helps customers tolerate the bumps in the relationship. I am a customer of a lot of different airlines and, while airlines rarely top any customer experience list, United Airlines has done a great job in proving their commitment to improving the customer experience. There is no doubt that the United customer experience isn’t always perfect. But a recent observation indicated they are working hard on it.

On a recent flight I opened the airline magazine, Hemispheres. The first article was from the CEO and all about the customer experience commitment. It was a good article but what followed impressed me even more. There were two more articles, the first highlighting a customer service employee and the second put a customer in the spotlight. The stories were right on target reflecting the willingness to go the extra mile for customers and the understanding of the travellers’ requirements. But the real message was something much more. It combined the executive commitment with the recognition that, at the core of a successful strategy, are the employees and customers.

Share your values. Corporate Executive Board Marketing Leadership Council has done extensive research on what build loyalty. In a recent podcast CEB notes that what some marketers call loyal customers are really “habit-driven” customers. Those habits can be broken easily when economic conditions change. They contend that the strong relationships are built by “shared values”. Brands can build loyalty through doing good.

Ever heard of Toms Shoes? If you haven’t I guarantee your teen and young adult children have. My children have multiple pairs of the shoes. Because they are the most comfortable shoe? No. Because they have the best styles? No. It’s because they like the company’s model and values. It’s simple: Buy a pair of shoes, and it'll send a second pair to a child who needs it. This year, it'll send about 300,000 pairs of shoes to the developing world. And, as this Fast Company articlepoints out, Toms benefits by word of mouth and spends a lot less on marketing than other shoe companies.

So, while some marketing departments are bombarding their customers with email campaigns and other companies are imitating those campaigns, it the true innovator that designs relationships that last the test of time. Next time a new promotional campaign is on the horizon, think about investing in the other 77%. Their email inboxes will thank you!