How to Build Loyalty, Not Just Relationships

By Heather Baldwin

Keeping track of customer data in order to build relationships is all very well, but if those relationships aren’t building loyalty to you and your product or service, then all that data is for naught. After all, two customers may have identical purchase histories and buying experiences with your company — and one may be thrilled and the other might be frustrated enough to look for another vendor. How can you know which is which?

Enter Walker Information, a 63-year-old research company that specializes in customer satisfaction and loyalty. Walker Information recently released a system called SmartLoyalty that picks up where CRM applications fall short — looking beyond the facts of customer interaction to determine the thoughts, perceptions and attitudes of customers, and then using that information to predict future behavior. They do this by issuing surveys to their clients’ customers, and then plugging the answers to those surveys into advanced scientific models that can predict what a customer will do in the future.

Walker breaks customers down into four categories: Truly Loyal — the customer likes you and will continue to do business with you; Accessible — the customer likes you but external forces are going to force him or her to switch to another vendor; Trapped — the customer doesn’t like you but will continue to use you because it’s too costly to switch to another vendor, such as in the case of a major software installation; and High Risk — the customer doesn’t like you and is actively searching for another vendor. Once you know where your customers rank, says Patrick Gibbons, Walker Information’s vice president of marketing, there are numerous strategies you can employ to retain them.

Walker client NCR, for example, found that if it could identify its High Risk customers and take action to address those customers’ problems, the customers were 1.3 times more likely to continue doing business with NCR than if no interaction had taken place, says Gibbons. The information yielded by the surveys also can be used to evaluate sales reps’ performance, he adds. “If all my reps have somewhere around 40% of their clients that are Truly Loyal and Joe Smith only has 10%, I’d want to find out why,” Gibbons says.

Surveys can be sent out at specific intervals — six months to a year works well, says Gibbons — or at a specific point in a project or after a transaction. It takes 15 to 20 minutes to fill out the comprehensive survey, and Gibbons says the response rate usually starts at around 30% and then climbs to about 70% over time as customers start seeing that their feedback is heard and acted upon. For more information, visit