Years ago someone told me "what you do to get them, you have to do to keep them." He was referring to relationships, and how if you wined and dined your significant other to get them, you were going to have to do the same to keep them.
Uber learned this lesson the hard way.
In summer 2015, Uber launched its ride-sharing service, UberPool. The company knew to make the service work they would need a large number of riders. And with competition increasing, specifically within the highly competitive San Francisco market, Uber did what many companies do when in that situation.
They lowered their prices.
Reportedly, the company spent upwards of $1 million dollars a week in San Francisco alone to attract the riders they needed, to a service they felt was critical to the future of their company.
Not surprisingly, Uber wasn't able to sustain this expensive approach. As a result, they weren't able to keep many of the customers this strategy won them.
Once they stopped subsidizing the prices of the ride-share, the number of people using UberPool took a nose dive. Some reports say 63 percent of their Pool customers left in search of cheaper options. Ouch.
Loyal customers are earned. But not with low prices and constant discounts. That's not a sustainable business model for most companies, save for the Wal-Marts of the world, whose chosen strategy is to be the cost leader.
Instead, loyal customers are created when you create emotional connections with them.
Had Uber invested in creating a relationship with their customers that gave them a stronger reason to choose them, and continue choosing them, they wouldn't have had to enter that price war with Lyft.
It might have taken more time to build up a committed following, yes. But it would have saved them a whole heck of a lot of money.
Here are three ways to foster loyalty in a sustainable way:
1. Connect your customers to your people.
Your team members play a big role in the relationship your customers have with you. That relationship, especially when it is strong, is one that customers are willing to pay a premium for.
I paid higher prices for years to continue going to the salon where my beloved hairdresser worked. Because of our relationship, going to anyone else but her felt like betrayal.
If your business is one where your team members have direct personal interaction with your customers, make sure they are equipped with how to build engage them.
If you run an entirely digital business, put your team at the forefront of your communications. Get them to interact with Tom, Lydia, and Monique rather than your customer service department.
Let your people be a reason your customers can't stay away from you. Show your people how to turn your customers into friends. People like to spend time (and money) with their friends.
2. Have products that are hard to part with.
Earlier this year I moved to Buenos Aires. As I was packing up all my stuff I had a whole suitcase dedicated to "supplies." Even though I could find just about all of these items in Buenos Aires, in many instances I would have had to switch brands.
That was just something I wasn't willing to do. Not unless forced to do so.
Do your customers feel that way about your products? Is what you offer so engrained into their lifestyle that even the thought of them having to switch to another makes them say, "Absolutely not!"
Find a way for your products to connect emotionally with your customers, and you'll never even consider trying to compete on price.
3. Adopt processes your customers can rally around.
How you make something is often just as important as what you make. Increasingly, customers are searching for companies that align with their values. As such, they like to spend their money with companies that operate in a manner that increases the equity of the product itself.
As if I needed another reason to love Chipotle, I became an even more diehard fan when they removed all GMOs from their menu a while back. I appreciate the process they use to bring me higher quality delicious food.
Is there anything significant enough about the way you run your business that can connect your customers to you on a deeper level?
When it comes to getting your customers to come back to you again and again, resist the urge to win them over with deep discounts. If that's the tactic you use to get them, it will have to be the one you have to use to keep them.
Otherwise, they'll jump ship to another company the minute they offer them a better deal. No bueno.