On loyalty

I’ve been thinking a lot about loyalty, lately. Loyalty in the way of brands. Of consumerism. But also loyalty in the way of time and effort in an occupation. More specifically – what loyalty means to me, and why I return loyalty whenever I can.

In any competitive market, loyalty is paramount to anything else in maintaining and building a healthy relationship. And by competitive market, I don’t just mean business and retail. I’m talking about relationships. I’m talking about media – sports, music, television.

In a relationship, loyalty is what keeps things easy – it helps build trust, affection, and a common bond that increasingly grows strong and can weather the small disillusions that come with knowing someone. If loyalty slips in a relationship, there’s more of a chance of the opposite – of more roaming, of seeking and researching other options. The less you care for me, the less I’ll end up caring for you. There’s not enough time. There are too many other people.

Commercially you see the same thing – and there are many people that respond to brand loyalty more than anything else. I consider myself in this group. If a company treats me well, I tend to continue pursuing their company.

Example: I frequent HyVee Liquor and Taylor’s Pantry here in Sioux Falls. Yes, they’re a little more expensive, but I never fail to find what I want, and the people that help me are courteous and knowledgeable. Yes, there are cheaper places in town, but their beer is dusty and they have no selection. I am loyal to the aforementioned stores because they have been loyal to me – they present to me, the customer, exactly what I want.

Radio Shack was not loyal to me, or any of their customers. They, instead, told me what I wanted to hear but never bothered to follow up on it. “Yes,” they said. “We’ll have your Sirius radio car kit in.” There was no mention of the fact that the product was no longer being made. And that the car kit would be impossible to buy without getting it on eBay for twice the original price. And that they would be getting a car kit for a newer model, and that I could return everything and get the newer model, but they wouldn’t be willing to pay for the $50.00 transfer fee to move my subscription to a different receiver.

And that another place in town actually carried a product that would fit.

Considering the lack of loyalty they had in me, their customer, I therefore developed a lack of loyalty for them. I visit Radio Shack only when they offer something that no one else offers – usually some obscure piece of audio equipment. Why would I shop there – they gave me no reason to believe they even wanted my business anymore.

If a sports team shows loyalty to their fans – by putting together a product worth watching, either with a team that wins or with players that entertain – they will create fans that buy tickets, merchandise, and concessions. Media outlets need to cater to their viewers, or those viewers will stop watching.

Employers need to cater to their employees. Or those employees will stop showing their loyalty. There’s a lot to this, but the basic premise is that if you show your appreciation for your employees, you’re much more likely to keep those employees. Believe it or not, most businesses need to recruit employees in the same way that retail stores recruit customers. It’s a two way street – sure, you’re getting paid, but they’re gaining your manpower, your skills and efforts.

I’ll never understand, therefore, how a company that rests so much on its employees can treat them without any respect. Without recognition, without loyalty. That’s not good business. Not at all. You hear about companies that treat their employees like shit – those are the companies that make big bucks, but don’t reciprocate. Sure, there’s a lot to be said about the power an executive has in creating revenue, but if you’re not filtering that revenue down to the people that do the grunt work for you, you’re going to find your quality lacks.

You’re going to lose any loyalty they ever had, and when a better job comes along, they’re going to jump at it.

You treat your employees with respect, and they’ll stick around. Even through better job offers and higher pay, you’ll find that, for the most part, they’ll stick with you. Because you stuck with them. Because you gave them a chance, and you refused to treat them without respect.

Loyalty goes a long way. It’s a strength that every company tries to exploit. But you need a reason to produce it. Loyalty doesn’t just come along because your products cheap. It’s easily snatched away if you don’t try hard enough.

But when you do, it’s there to stay.

This was lovingly handwritten on April 17th, 2006