Brand loyalty means sticking with a company regardless of whether there exists a more logical solution to your need. You remain loyal because the company has strengthened their relationship enough with you to justify charging a higher price, building their brick and mortar farther away, or even taking off from the tarmac 20 minutes late due to “mechanical problems.” Plenty of other options with lower prices, closer locations, and functional aircraft might be available to you, but you stay. Why? Because you know your company will treat you right when it really counts.

You also sometimes stay, however, with the company that has delayed flights, high prices, and bad customer service. Maybe the company has monopolized the category. Maybe they offer the most competitive price for what you need, but usually at the cost of a good customer experience (CX).

Fortunately, most industries are not monopolized, and other options are at your disposal. In your initial search for the product or service, it’s likely your priorities were something like this: price, quality, accessibility, service— and maybe even in that order. If you’ve ever left the poor CX company to look for other options, how did these priorities change? Were you more willing to sacrifice a little on price for a better experience? Having found an experience and product/service that makes your money worth spending, did you still find yourself searching for greener pastures? Probably not.

That’s because your experience with Green Pastures Inc. was one that built your loyalty with them. It’s because your new priority to be treated well aligns with their priority to provide you with good service.

Let’s take a look at a great customer experience:

A certain national outdoor retailer has a deep-seated commitment to customer experience. One of many aspects to their great customer service is the return policy—a purposefully ambiguous one that encourages liberality in giving refunds, and benefits the customer as a result. Here’s a story from a now loyal customer:

“Last week, my dad was headed off to the dump with his old (4-5 years) cross-country skis. They had become delaminated as a result of plain wear and tear (and storing them in the hot attic probably didn’t help). My brother had to pick up a jacket for summer camp, so my dad figured he’d see if [the store] would take them back to dispose of them (saving him 20 bucks that the dump would have cost). Not only did [the store] take them back, but they gave him a full refund. Kudos to [this retailer] for honoring an abnormally long warranty that we didn’t even know existed.”

How about a bad one:

Erica made a large deposit to her bank account one day—also a national institution—knowing she had bills to pay. The teller informed her because of the large amount, the funds would be available for use after two days. When her checks bounced two days later, Ramus called in, asking for an explanation. The justification was that large deposits may be held longer before issuance for use. She asked why she was not informed of this policy after being told it was only a two-day hold, to which the customer service rep replied, “We’re too big a bank to call our customers when there is a problem.

CX: the Key Differentiator

It’s safe to assume the bank’s intention was not to administer a bad experience for its customers. So what’s the difference?

The positive experience in the case of the retailer resulted from a standardized practice being carried out by an employee familiar with the company’s culture and policies. An employee should honor the liberal return policy even when the customer does not expect them to.

In the second case, there is evidence of siloed procedures and miscommunication, suggesting that systematic practices have not been standardized to meet customer expectation.

The retailer’s fundamental customer experience practices were likely crafted differently from the bank’s in the areas of purpose, goals and values, and strategy.

Purpose. The retailer’s primary purpose was to please the customer. The employee who issued the refund was clearly not overly concerned about violating company procedures, because he knew had the CEO been working the register he/she would have done the same thing. In other words, company procedure actually encouraged the refund.

On the other hand, the bank teller’s information on the financial hold was completely different from the information Erica received two days later. This means either the teller was not properly trained, or departmental procedures disagreed with one another. Either way, Erica left dissatisfied due to misalignment of company policy and purpose.

Values and Goals. The bank’s ‘on-paper’ values may center on delivering an excellent, personalized customer experience. Their goals, however, evidently vary from department to department, and therefore may not ultimately support the established values of the business as a whole. At some point—maybe when some large clients dropped their accounts with the bank—the values became more of a backburner mantra for executives than a way of doing business like the frontline employees agreed. When those values were ignored, executives likely began pushing secondary goals on lower departments in order to heal the wound of the lost accounts. Perhaps the executives set priority goals to understand why other banks were taking their business. Meanwhile, the shift in focus caused some departments to ignore other large-deposit customers, and forget the value those customers place on a personalized experience. The bank’s values changed from long-term customer relationship to short-term problem-solution—a problem that might have been avoided altogether had the core company values steered the ship from the beginning.

Strategy. Strategy is maybe the practice that most differentiates the two companies. Both are likely to have value statements such as, “the customer is always right.” But true customer-centricity is found in the consistent and foundational execution of that statement. While the bank might have a loose procedure for acknowledging the concern and then getting back to the customer “in a timely manner,” the retailer likely has a superior communication system set up to enable instantaneous and personalized, human response to any customer concern. Practical, actionable and systematic CX strategy gives your customer the consideration and customization they deserve

Align and Thrive

An organization’s customer experience should be determined, of course, based on the wants and needs of its customers. Without the right purpose, values and strategy as well as the correct tools and channels of communication, these customer needs can be disparate from organizational focuses.