Google, Facebook, iPod… take a look at the fastest growing businesses and brands in the world today and you’ll notice one thing in common – their customers are so in love with their products they’ve become a free sales force.

Just like a teenager experiencing love for the first time, these customers are totally smitten. They can’t help themselves – they’ll talk to anyone who’ll listen about their new found love.

Most other businesses have numerous ‘one night stands’ with customers who, after the initial seduction (and promise of a long loving relationship) find themselves bitterly disappointed. There are millions of others that, after many years of loyalty, decide to divorce the business because they ‘just don’t seem to care anymore’ and ‘take me for granted’. Many others remain customers until the day an attractive, understanding, attention-lavishing and easy-to-deal-with alternative gets their attention.

At the heart of the most profitable and fastest growing businesses in the world is a positive emotional connection between three groups – the company or brand, its people and the customers. There is an emotional engagement between them; the customers are captivated by the brand or product, and the employees are proud to be associated with it.

In the 1980’s several Harvard Business School professors sought to explain the superior profitability of certain companies operating in specific service sectors. They looked at airlines, financial services, retailing, and professional services to name a few. The professors wanted to learn how one Bank, or airline, or supermarket, operating in the same geographic area with the same products, could be up to 40% more profitable than its competitors?

Their discovery is summarised in a framework called the Value–Profit–Chain. In simple terms, superior growth and profitability was driven by significantly higher levels of customer loyalty from profitable customers. I characterise these customers as STAY, SAY and PAY:

STAY means they actively choose to do business with you rather than feeling handcuffed by some financial ‘loyalty bribe’.

SAY means that when their friends complain about the companies they feel handcuffed to, loyal customers SAY: “I deal with Company X and they’re fantastic!” (And before long, their disillusioned friends soon start to flirt with Company X.)

PAY means they recognise you get what you pay for… so they’re prepared to PAY a premium to access that product or service.

The Harvard Professors discovered that if customers perceive the value of your product and service to be superior, both in promise and in delivery, they would be emotionally engaged. Products are easy to copy; but perceived value and the overall “customer experience”—how they feel from when they start thinking about and using your product—are not.
When your customers deal with your company, the quality of experience is largely determined by your front–line employees: your sales and customer service people. Those customer-facing people in the outlets, on the telephones, and making the deliveries.

Now let’s leave the Harvard professors and go into people’s brains and nervous systems.

What is it specifically that gets customers emotionally engaged with products or brands? Just like House (of the U.S. show – the very friendly doctor with the walking stick), neuroscientists can now use technology to piece together a number of pieces that may well solve the puzzle.

The key is a particular brain cell or neuron called a “mirror neuron” that is automatically activated every time one person deals with another person… it is the basis of what the scientists call “emotional contagion”. This can be positive and negative. Just think for a moment about a customer or a colleague that you look forward to dealing with versus one you don’t… ever receive an email and get a sinking feeling deep in your stomach as soon as you see who it’s from?

Assuming that your products are well designed and represent competitive value for customers, the challenge, and therefore the opportunity, is to get your front-line employees to emotionally connect with your company and your customers.

Highly engaged employees are those that STAY, SAY and STRIVE. They STAY with you, they SAY good things to everyone about your company / brands, and they STRIVE to improve the business.

As a company leader, ultimately your role is to emotionally engage your teams and people. When you can truly help your employees feel valued and involved, they will make your customers feel valued and involved…the mirror neurons will make it so.

A lifelong customer love affair requires a different but equally strategic approach to practices such as Six-Sigma and LEAN; a deliberate approach I call ENGAGINEERING… applying the art and science of personal and group engagement.

Author's Bio: 

Bill Lang is an educational entrepreneur (and an entrepreneur educator), author, coach and Skills Architect. As Principal of Human Performance Company, Bill helps businesses and individuals worldwide improve their performance and achieve their goals faster.
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