Compromise, communication keys to loyalty

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Do you have one of those friends that gets extremely specific when ordering at a restaurant? It's that person that has no qualms with requesting ingredi­ent substitutions from a waiter despite not having a food allergy or restrictive cultural diet. He or she probably asks about the cooking techniques and equipment being used before committing to a particular dish. I know a few such people and they drive me crazy.

I'm always left wondering, once they've gotten to the end of their cooking instructions, why they simply don't just stay home and prepare their own meal. Of course, as frustrating to the wait staff or the chef my particular friend may be, most often the restaurant professionals are extremely accommodating and patient — even in New York City— because, as we all know, the customer is always right. And unlike me, the business is still glad that the person is there – albeit complaining – because they are willing to pay someone else to cook.

In fact, with budgets the way that they are, restau­rants and all luxury service and product providers are becoming even more grateful. The economic recession has placed marketers between the crux of two tricky trends — sympathetic marketing, as we reported on last week in our lead story that allows more leniency to buyers around payments; and order-changing, cash-conscious consumers that are slower to spend and even more finicky about what they'll invest in.

It used to be that the media glut was making it hard for marketers to break through the clutter. But now, even if your message is received, you may find people, saddled with debt or nervous about job security, looking to sim­plify their lives and make only essential purchases.

That is why, this week's Spotlight expert, Seth Solo­mons, global CMO of Digitas, explained that his agency is advocating for brands to become more loyal to their customers, rather than seek out loyal customers. Solomons' loyal brands are those that deliver service at every interaction – entertaining con­tent in marketing e-mails, timely direct mail reminders, product recommendations in a search, landing page or e-commerce site and call centers equipped with purchase history and product availability information.

In the DM industry, a lot of time and energy is spent on the analytics of finding the business's loyal custom­ers: who they are, where they are, what messages they prefer to receive. But this level of service is rapidly becoming critical to retaining all of your customers – not just the ones that have your plastic membership card in their pocket. That being said, there are times when it seems more necessary for the waiter at a restaurant to tell my friend that there is no fresh ciabatta bread, and they'll have to select either wheat or rye. Knowing your business' threshold for compromise is going to be important in the months ahead. Companies that can bend without breaking will outlast this storm.

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