Loyalty in a time of disruption


I recently told my bank Westpac to go stuff themselves. I cancelled my credit card and set up another one with Citibank. Now, I’m not in love with Citibank. Yet they offered a moving package that made the whole thing sensible, their ongoing interest rate is fine, and they were nice enough to give me a limit that could probably fund a third world country, or at least a mighty fine overseas holiday. Good for them – I know it’s me that will end up paying for it all, so it’s not like they overwhelmed me with their generosity. But I went because I really, really, really hate Westpac.

When I called the bank to close my account I was put through to their customer service manager, who asked me a series of questions to determine why I was leaving. I answered civilly and politely because it was hardly her fault I was going. She even had the decency to sound sad. When we got to the end of her pre-programmed survey, she was genuinely puzzled.

“Ms. Davis, according to your answers, you should be a satisified customer. I don’t understand.”

“That’s because you’ve asked me the wrong questions,” I told her.

Stories about the breathtaking arrogance of banks are dreary because we all know one, so I won’t bore you. Instead I gave the full history to the nice customer service lady. She even had the decency to ask me if there was anything she could do to get me to change my mind.

“Will the bank change its behaviour?” I asked.

It sounded like she smiled wearily over the phone. “Ms. Davis, I am only authorized to offer you a discount or interest rate benefit.”

Ah! We were talking a different language. Suffice to say that Westpac had received “three strikes” in the game of keeping Kylie Davis as a customer. I like to think that I walk my talk. So I walked.

Current business thinking says in this day and age, it is not enough for a customer to be loyal. Tricks like loyalty programs have terminally damaged the concept, roping people into schemes that pretend to reward for regular custom, but in fact simply increase prices as they deliver a freebie “fix,” the cost of which is priced into the business in other areas. Loyalty can be bought – until, of course, the time when the price is no longer seen to offer value.

Delight is the new buzzword for customers. It’s not enough for your business to satisify, it has to totally surprise and titillate. I like the word delight. It is a word of happy emotion and unexpected joy – not like loyalty which is heavy in obligation and duty.

Businesses, however, don’t know how to survey for delight. It’s one of those nasty emotional things. You can’t cookie cutter delight, package it up, create it cheap and ship it out. You’ve got to engage on an emotional level to create it. You’ve got to be honest. You’ve got to ask the right questions. You’ve got to be flexible and think quickly on your feet. You’ve got to be surprising and out of the box.

But here’s the real crux: businesses are most vulnerable to customers longing for delight not when competition is strong between them and other businesses on existing products and price points. It’s the businesses that live with the misguided belief that their customers are loyal because they’re ticking all the boxes on the service survey that are easy game to disruption. Those products and services that don’t seek to steal your business by going head-to-head in a price war, but those new ideas that deliver value in a totally new, unheard of and different way that is delightful to customers.

Disruption that thinks outside the box is the single most dangerous thing to businesses for whom the bureaucracy of loyalty is in full swing.

So Apple’s iPad is now here – just as newspapers were starting to get their business brains around the internet and getting a feel for what satisfies customers in an online environment. Will the iPad offer us the opportunity to radically rethink ways to delight our readers and advertisers, or will we use the new features to deliver more of the same kind of news that we’ve done for the past 200 years?

I’m almost too scared to think about what the answer to that question might be. My biggest fear is that newspapers will be slow and laborious and set in our ways as we demonstrated so frustratingly over the past five years, only to be on the verge of working it out, just as the next disruptor hits.

It’s time to think outside the box – whether that’s a bundle of newsprint or a glamourised, grown-in-Chernobyl iPhone – about what will delight and surprise readers and advertisers, not see this as an obligation to deliver more of the same on just another platform.

Otherwise, we run the risk that our readers and customers will start to really, really, really hate us. Not because we’ve done anything specifically wrong. But because our behaviour is not delightful, and we’re speaking the wrong kind of language.


By continuing to browse or by clicking “ACCEPT,” you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance your site experience. To learn more about how we use cookies, please see our privacy policy.