Caution: Customer Loyalty Is Fragile

customer loyalty is fragile

Time to Plug Gaps in the Customer Experience

It is common knowledge that customer loyalty is a cornerstone of a successful business. A quick Google search yields millions of hits about the cost of new customer acquisition compared to the cost of retaining loyal customers. It is also universally understood that the defection of a customer can create a costly ripple effect through negative word of mouth.

I generally consider myself to be a loyal customer. I have driven the same brand of car since high school. My wife and I go to the same restaurants again and again on date nights. I even hold off on getting haircuts until I visit my parents’ house, as I only feel comfortable getting cut by my favorite barber. But a recent experience revealed how beneath the surface, customer loyalty truly is fragile. It is therefore critical for companies to ensure a consistently positive experience across all touch points in the customer journey.

B2B International recently held a corporate event near our Manchester, UK headquarters, flying in teams from the US, Germany and China to attend. We held a similar event last summer and had stayed at a hotel that was recommended by our local colleagues not far from the B2B office. It wasn’t a 5-star hotel, but the facilities were clean and tidy; the staff courteous and friendly; a breakfast buffet was included in the stay; and, for a small fee guests were given access to a very spacious and well equipped exercise facility with pool, hot tubs and saunas. So when given the option to switch hotels this year, I of course voted to return to our original accommodation.

The New York team flew overnight to Manchester after a full day of work and headed straight to the hotel after landing the following morning local time. The hotel was notified in advance that we would be arriving early, so we all looked forward to checking in to our rooms immediately upon arrival and enjoying a much-needed rest. It was our point of arrival at my perception of the hotel turned completely upside down.

The hotel clerk, who we’ll call Marty, had a big “Manager” printed on his name tag. Marty told us in no uncertain terms that there were no rooms ready for us and as the hotel was short staffed, it would be several hours before any room became available. The only option was to wait in the lobby and he would call us when it was possible to check us in. No apologies; no “we’ll get housekeeping to clean up some rooms right away for you”: nothing. In fact, the more we inquired about when rooms would be ready, the more visibly bothered Marty became.

And so we sat in the lobby with our suitcases, still in yesterday’s clothes and completely exhausted. The first hour went by with no word from Marty. He had been at the desk the entire time, not really doing much of anything. He hadn’t checked out any guests and his phone had rung maybe 2 or 3 times. But Marty tried his very hardest to avoid looking in our vicinity. One of us asked Marty how the rooms were coming along, but he had no news for us.

Another hour passed, at which point we’d curled into fetal positions on chairs and couches dotted throughout the lobby, trying to get a few minutes of sleep. One of us didn’t even make it that far, and sought restful solitude sprawled out on the floor. He looked to be sleeping better than the rest of us. Again, I asked Marty where we were at with the rooms. Again the same spiel: the hotel is short staffed and there is only one person authorized to sign off on the cleanliness of guest rooms. “You’ll have to sit and wait”, he said.

Finally, after three hours, I got a nod from Marty: “I have four rooms ready but if you want to check in now, we’ll have to charge an early check in fee.” There were eight of us in our group, each with our own room. But it took Marty another three hours to open up the remaining rooms, all accompanied with an early check in fee.

The rest of the hotel stay was exactly how I remembered. Same facilities, great breakfast, pool and exercise areas staffed with friendly and courteous staff. But having gone through this experience, we’ll never stay in that hotel again. Even worse for the hotel is the fact that news of our “ordeal” spread like wildfire throughout B2B. Never again will our company book a room at the hotel, nor will B2B recommend the hotel to visiting clients. In fact, I’m quite sure that many of our local colleagues will actively recommend their clients avoid booking a stay at the hotel for the foreseeable future.

And thus I return to my original point. Business-to-business customers are businesses themselves and rely on suppliers to provide high quality products and services in order to serve their own customers. Rather than consumers, a b2b account can be worth thousands if not millions of dollars in revenue each year. A single negative experience can result in the loss of an entire account and potentially millions in unrealized revenue, as news of the experience spreads throughout the organization.

Business-to-business customers will have special needs from time to time; for example, having an order expedited to meet their clients’ deadlines. This means that b2b organizations need to be flexible; they need to empower their customer-facing staff to make changes on behalf of customers; and, they need to monitor performance at each touch point along the customer journey in order to ensure a consistently positive experience.

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