Customer loyalty: It’s the Holy Grail of most businesses today. And yet study after study shows that loyalty is on the decline, especially as consumers grow ever more empowered, thanks to the surfeit of information, advice and opinions on the ever-present Web. Experts say most products and services will be commoditized in the next decade, making loyalty even more important as time goes on.

It’s become clear that nurturing customer loyalty goes way beyond issuing loyalty cards and rewards points. I believe a mindset change is in order that takes into consideration the psychological aspects of loyalty.

Simply put, customer loyalty – like loyalty to an alma mater, a significant other, your homeland — is an emotion, and like any strongly grounded feeling, it’s an emotion that is created over time.

Using a metaphor, customer loyalty is like an emotional bank account that every customer has for each organization or brand with which they interact. With every positive interaction, emotional loyalty currencies are deposited into the account. Conversely, negative experiences post debits to the account. With more and more positive experiences, additional currencies are deposited, until the account reaches a level where it pays back in terms of true customer loyalty for that organization or brand. Beyond that point, more deposits might result in customer advocacy, where the customer is willing to speak out on your behalf.

So, how do you ensure the deposits outweigh the debits? One way is to minimize and pay close attention to and rectify the negative experiences. These can come in the form of promotions that the customer finds irrelevant (a point-of-sale coupon for something he or she has just bought, for instance) or an error in a transaction (incorrect size or unexpected charges), or delivery of items arriving beyond the promise date.

A second way is to deliver personalized and relevant interactions across all channels of customer engagement. An example of this is The LEGO Group, which – through a single source of customer data – has a full view of every customer interaction across its Web site, call center and store. If someone looks at a certain LEGO collection on the Web site, for instance, and then visits the store, the point-of-sale screen or kiosk presents offers, discounts or further information related to that engagement upon entry of the customer’s loyalty card number. The customer feels “known” and invested in, and – cha-ching! – chalk up one more currency deposit in his or her loyalty bank account.

In addition to a 360-degree view of customers, it’s important that the entire culture of the organization be customer-centric – after all, if loyalty is an emotion, who better than another human being to help make that emotion a positive one?

What are your thoughts: Does loyalty have an emotional basis or a scientific one? Please share your thoughts and opinions.