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The tricky task of building and retaining customer loyalty is fertile ground for research and holds significant consequences for businesses. According to researcher Jeremy Wolter, part of the challenge lies in the reality that there are two kinds of loyal customers. “There are those who are loyal because they see value in the product and those who are loyal because they identify with the brand,” said Wolter, Privett Associate Professor of Marketing at Harbert.
That’s a critical distinction. The product group — let’s call them product lovers — sees the brand as a product it likes and values. For example, product lovers would see Chick-Fil-A as a place to consistently get a tasty sandwich that can’t be found elsewhere. Product lovers’ relationship with the brand is marked by high perceptions of quality, satisfaction and trust.
But the customers who are loyal to the brand, a group we can call brand lovers, cares more about the brand identity, values, or perceived prestige of a company. Again, Chick-Fil-A, with its stated Christian values and Sunday closures, is an example. Another is Apple, whose technology devotees may go so far as to have Apple logos on their vehicles. Brand lovers’ relationship is marked by high connection and identification with the brand.
Wolter’s research has found that the two customer groups react differently to complaints about a company or problems with a product. “For brand lovers, a problem or complaint may become a threat because that brand represents you,” he said. “It’s harder to recover because more is expected of the company.” These customers not only want things put right, but they also want to be reaffirmed in who they are and in the relationship.
Product lovers are more likely to forgive a failing — and less likely to complain in the first place. These customers just want a good thing to continue. They’re worried about the relationship and value they receive returning to normal. “You don’t have to go overboard with customers who are product lovers,” Wolter said.
“They’re a quieter group and don’t expect as much.”
So how do you know which group you’re dealing with? The easiest way is to ask. Research shows that giving customers a voice in solving a problem is beneficial because you know what they expect and you empower the customer, which strengthens the customer-brand relationship. Just because customers who see value in the product expect less doesn’t mean you can ignore them.