Loyalty Lessons From 'The Sopranos'

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Even the most casual viewer of the HBO drama "The Sopranos" is familiar with the basic code of honor that plays such a large part in the smooth operation of the crime family. A recent episode, "Luxury Lounge," was especially rewarding for loyal viewers and loyalty marketers. If you can suspend disbelief, there are many valuable lessons about how to manage customer loyalty when the playing field changes abruptly.

Food always has been the Sopranos' specialty, but in this episode the crew's favorite, Vesuvio's - owned by the hapless Artie - takes center stage. The episode opens with the crew waiting for their food and complaining how the restaurant is going downhill. This is their favorite restaurant, at least until Da Giovanni's opens nearby. Almost immediately, Vesuvio's traffic falls off and the restaurant is nearly empty, as Da Giovanni's thrives under the helm of a hot young chef, attracting Vesuvio's formerly loyal customers. Da Giovanni's new customers rave about the food, the service and the décor. It's packed with satisfied customers. The playing field has changed.

Sound familiar?

Meanwhile, things are getting worse at Vesuvio's. The beef supplier starts selling Artie inferior product. An employee has stolen credit card data, leading to the suspension of American Express charging privileges and a loss of customer trust. Artie, the ever-present host, proceeds to alienate the few remaining loyal customers by lingering at their tables, interrupting his clients' conversations and romantic dates with clumsy comments. The food, suffering as Artie spends more time in the front of the restaurant and less at the stove, gets worse, leading to more customer defections. To top this off, Artie lashes out at his loyal and dedicated staff, leaving his wife to pick up the pieces.

Things are so bad that Tony Soprano, not known for paying his Vesuvio's bill, not only pays his overdue tab but also counsels Artie in the running of his business, devising a win-back campaign for him. Artie's reaction to all of this? Instead of coolly stepping back and assessing the situation, he picks a fight with a Soprano underling - his "best customer" - that results in his hand getting burned in his own marinara.

The moral for us in this story? There will always be a new competitor down the street - or a click away - challenging our customers' loyalty. Here are some customer lessons served "family style" courtesy of Artie and the Sopranos:

Don't interrupt your customers when they are savoring your experience. Don't neglect the quality of your product. Don't keep customers waiting when they are hungry and ready to eat. Listen, especially to your best customers. Share credit with your employees, and hog the blame when things go wrong. Reward your customers when you win them back, not in order to win them back. If you misuse your customer data in any way, expect to suffer as your clients have suffered.

Artie made all of these mistakes. Will his restaurant survive? No one knows, but one thing is for sure: When Tony Soprano offers you advice about loyalty, always listen.

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