"Customer loyalty," "customer satisfaction" and "product evangelism" are, of course, business buzzwords and thus have fuzzy meanings. However, those meanings cluster around different customer behaviors and have a very different value to you as an entrepreneur. Here's how I see it:

Customer Satisfaction

When thinking about this term, think about what it means to be satisfied.  Suppose you're hungry and you stop off for fast food.  It tastes OK and when you're done you're not hungry any more. That's being satisfied.

Satisfaction is tepid and minimal. In B2B sales, all you need do to satisfy your customers is fulfill a need and not sell them something that accidentally puts them out of business.

Customer satisfaction has absolutely no bearing on future buying decisions.  The split-second some other vendor comes up with something similar that's cheaper, you're out and they're in.

Customer Loyalty

Customer loyalty is a very different thing because a customer can be simultaneously loyal AND dissatisfied.

Take, for example, Microsoft Windows. Plenty of people dislike or even loath Windows, but they've got "customer loyalty" because moving to an entirely different platform would be expensive and perhaps impossible.

Same thing with airlines. Customers can be loyal to an airline simply because it's the only one that flies out of an easily accessible airport.

There's a second flavor of customer loyalty which consists of a strong tendency to continue buying from the same vendor, even if the vendor is not the price leader.

This is usually because the vendor provides something that the other alternatives don't, like "just-in time delivery."

There's a third flavor that comes in the form of personal loyalty between an individual who's selling and an individual who's buying. All things being equal, people prefer to do business with people they like.  Same thing even if all things aren't equal.

Customer loyalty is obviously a good thing to have and much more valuable than customer satisfaction.

Product Evangelism

This buzzword is even fuzzier than the first two, but we all kinda know what "evangelist" means--like the slightly-insane guy with the long hair waiting in line to buy the next iPad.

This kind of fanatical customer behavior emerges from the combination of two things:

  1. Fantastically great products and services. I define these as product and services that provide people with personal vast personal pleasure and/or help them avoid vast personal pain. The analog in B2B is a product or service that creates vast career advancement and/or avoids the potential for a career disaster.
  2. A story that speaks to the heart. This is the story surrounding your company and products, which helps define how people feel about you.  The story can't just be a yawner like "we swooped in like Superman and solved ABC's problem."  It must speak to the imagination and to the humanness we all share.

So you see, the three terms aren't interchangeable. They're not even very closely related.

The reason this observation is useful is that it tells you where to expend your energy. First shoot for product evangelism and then followed up with customer loyalty.  In other words, hook them, then reel them in.

Customer satisfaction can be safely ignored.

Want to make work less stressful? Read Business Without the Bullsh*t.

Published on: Apr 30, 2014