Branding

When loyalty is based on indifference.

Author
Marc Davison
No.
153
Date
02/05/08

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It’s amazing what some companies take for granted.
It’s amazing what some companies leave on the table.
It’s amazing what some companies don’t do to blow their customers away.

It’s sad how little most companies invest in building affection with their customers. I could be talking about major real estate brands. I could be talking airlines. I could be talking about phone carriers.

My Verizon bill

After nearly dropping dead from the shock of my January cell-phone bill, I dialed 611 while pacing a trench in my living room.

As it turns out, the culprits were the hordes of Verizon folks who’d switched to AT&T over the holidays, reeking havoc on my free mobile-to-mobile minutes causing my otherwise stable charges to skyrocket. Just like that.

Verizon could have built an alert of some kind that recognizes when we, the loyalists, are on the threshold of a violent overage. But they didn’t. They could issue a voucher for it’s customers to be used against spiked minutes due to the anomaly of so many customers switching carriers at once. That would have been  mind-blowing. But the company instead chose to do nothing.

According to a summer poll conducted by M:Metrics, roughly two-thirds of people interested in buying the iPhone (the leading driver of a lot of recent carrier-switching) are not currently AT&T customers. Verizon knew this was going to happen. And they did nothing.

And that also blows my mind.

Being stuck is not the same as being loyal

I could leave Verizon. And go where? In a sea of phone carriers, they’re all the same. One just as bad as the next. So I’m stuck with what I have.

Corporate folks, as they crunch numbers, tend to view this repeat business as brand loyalty. I disagree. And if the foundation of your business is built on that very same premise, I’d check it for cracks.

Had Verizon checked, it would have noticed that after getting over the shock of the bill, I had to wait over an hour to finally reach a salesperson who took another 40 minutes to investigate why my bill was over $600.

I hung up frustrated, abused, discarded.

What does this have to do with real estate?

Everything. What are you doing right now to mine the richest vein before you — your existing and past customer base? What meaning are you applying to your brand right now that could translate into genuine loyalty?

Brokers: What are you doing right now, from the top down, to relieve frustration among your customers? To embrace them? To make them feel respected rather than used?

Your brands are stabbed into America’s front yard. They know your names but they don’t know you. They are hard-pressed to express your value proposition. You are like everyone else. How are you leveraging your differences, your essence, to enhance a sense of loyalty?

AT&T partnered with Apple to create that new bond. Maybe it’s working. Who knows. I am already hearing a hue and cry from their newly converted about dropped calls and lousy service. Meanwhile, Verizon does nothing other push that oddball "Can you hear me now?" guy on us while it remains deaf to the gripes of its customers.

So this is my point: In the face of today’s market, with all of the issues facing the American homeowner — from shrinking equity to volatile credit markets to impending foreclosure — what new bonds are real estate brokers creating? What new offerings or alerts are you presenting to your past customers that could not only bring immediate benefit, relief, information or counsel but that also could assign some new, greater sense of value for you and your brands?

Vendors: In the face of today’s struggle to stay afloat, in light of the market and shrinking sales, what are you doing right now to drive new products, services, tools and pricing back to your current broker client base? Are you reengineering your technologies? Are you enhancing your old platforms? Are you working with modern code or are you just sticking to the same old, same old in hopes that your clients just continue writing checks because you’ve mistakenly confused the futility of finding a better vendor with loyalty?

Can you hear me now?

A new cell-phone carrier will one day emerge with a Zappos-like service ethic, an Apple-like retail experience and a Starwood-like rewards program built to cultivate affection and loyalty. Or not. What interests me is what this would look like in real estate. From consumers within the industry to homeowners outside it, all one has to do is gaze out across the landscape to see the millions of unclaimed, disloyal, stuck hearts looking, yearning and hoping for something they can fall in love with.

Don’t wish the cycles would turn; turn them yourself.

– Davison