Brand Loyalty – what big companies can learn from the small ones.
My new phone is on its way today. I just checked the tracking code on DHL’s web site and sure enough it’s in a van, having left Brentwood at 7:30am. I’m replacing my old o2 Xda Orbit 2. It’s the first time I’ve had a phone for longer than the contract period and even now, I still love it. Last night I even felt a moment’s regret that I’m upgrading, but the replacement phone is one I’ve wanted for months. The Xda range by o2 was actually a range of HTC phones. Not only am I sticking with o2 (their coverage works well for me and the price is reasonable(ish)) but I’m sticking with HTC – I’ve chosen the HD2. Brand loyalty is an odd thing though; I’d like to explain why I think so.
My Orbit 2 has broken down quite badly three times. Each time, the GPS system lost all its map data when the Micro-SD card corrupted (three different cards!). o2 had to give me a discount after I spent 9 months with no 3G. Why am I staying with them? Surely they’ve done enough to lose a customer. What lessons can they (and others) learn from my potentially misguided loyalty?
My contract with o2 was cheaper than any of my friends’ and colleagues’ contracts. My phone could do things that newer phones are only just boasting (multi-tasking, apps, Skype and a host of other things have been on my phone for years – even my previous Xda could handle them all). The phone itself is a joy to use. It’s fast, it can be upgraded using mostly free apps. It’s just about pocketable. It’s easy to use (despite the fact that it uses the much-maligned Windows Mobile). So there are some clear positives, but I’d expect someone who had three SD cards wiped by a phone and 3G denied for so long to be somewhat anti o2 or HTC. I’m no fool when it comes to technology either – I’m a gadget-fan and subscribe to T3 and Stuff magazines.
It made me think about the brands to which I feel loyalty and those which I’m averse to. The reasons for my decisions are often abstract and suggest that creating real brand loyalty is more of an art than most people realise. Here’s a few of the brands I feel either loyalty or aversion to:
I’m brand loyal to:
HTC – I love their phones, but I don’t like Apple, which might explain a little of it.
Specialized – I’ve only owned one of their bikes, but I buy original parts for it and it does so much more than I could have hoped for.
Samsung – Their TVs are wonderful and I like that fact that they tend to be among the first with new technologies.
Hootsuite – This Twitter management tool is one of the most astonishing freebies on the internet. Without it, Twitter would take up too much time to be worthwhile.
eBuyer – Always fast delivery, always excellent pricing.
I’m averse to:
Dixons – I’ve never liked their awful stores, but this week’s no-show from their delivery men simply reinforced my feelings. To top it off, they turned up today with my new washing machine with only one delivery driver. My 5’2″ wife would have had to help lift it if I wasn’t still at home. Their call centres are the worst of the worst too.
Apple – I’ve only got one Apple product – an iPod Shuffle. I don’t know what it is about them, but I don’t like them. I don’t like their ubiquity, their trendiness or their looks. Most of all, I don’t like the lack of thought that people make about purchasing their products. Without exception, you can get more for less money.
BT – I know it’s hard to offer decent customer service to large numbers of people, but they don’t seem to have any sort of understanding of the importance of their services to businesses. The arrogance of a formerly nationalised company suggests that they haven’t quite woken up to the fact that there are better, smaller options out there. I haven’t even put a link to their site here, I like them that little.
The positive reasons are all long-term. they’re often product or service-based and they rarely involve the people at the company (the exceptions are generally small companies, where personal contact is inevitable – great examples are Mediterranean Direct and Cycles UK). The negative ones often involve people. Normally people who are not empowered to make a decision and who are stuck with a faulty, inflexible process. Perhaps I’m being too hard on them. Internal communication can fix these problems though. True, Apple aren’t likely to be my favourite brand any time soon – that’s very much a personal opinion – but Dixons and BT could easily win me over by sorting out their shocking lack of coherence between their departments and processes.
Big companies need to think like small ones. Staff must be empowered to feed information upwards to company principals and those principals must listen. Systems can change, processes can improve, staff can be given the power to use their initiative and as a result, customers can be impressed and retained.