Let me share a true story with you.
Before I sold my New York advertising agency. I’d have lunch from time to time with a rep who sold advertising space in a trade journal. Mostly I avoided lunches with people who sold me things, but I’d been buying space from this guy for years, and I accepted his invitations because I enjoyed his company.
Inevitably he took me to a nearby restaurant that had once been held in high esteem by those in the know, but had long since gone downhill. A growing slide to mediocre food had tarnished its reputation. The smart people didn’t go there any more.
Yet he did. Always. But why? I mean, after all, he was on the expense account and could have taken me anywhere. We always went to that restaurant because they knew his name and precisely where he liked to sit. The maitre ‘d greeted him effusively. “Hello, Mr. B_______,” the maitre would say. “Your table is ready. Will you be needing a telephone today?” (Back then, high class restaurants had telephones which could be plugged in at tableside, for their guests.)
The maitre would greet me by name, too. I had been introduced to him years ago, and he had never forgotten my name. He would then seat us, and suggest what he felt were the best items on the day’s menu. My friend and I would proceed to order and consume a second-rate meal, with the maitre stopping at our table to ask if there was anything – anything at all – he could do for us.
My friend took me – and presumably his other clients – to this restaurant because being there made him feel good. He felt that he was somehow invested in the place. The quality of the food had little or nothing to do with his loyalty. He understood that they loved him, so he loved them back.
The point is, if you want to generate that kind of strong loyalty from your customers, show them personal interest. That sounds basic, I know. Yet many business relationships are perfunctory at best: sellers make the pitch, get the order, write it up, and goodbye till next time. What customer feels loyal in that flimsy kind of relationship?
Building a lasting bond with your customers means nurturing relationships. They want to know you appreciate them. That you’re caring and respectful. And above all, that you show them you know how important they are to you, and to your company. That’s your big competitive edge.