True customer loyalty–as Bryan Pearson points out in his new book The Loyalty Leap–is a function of two dynamics: behavioral loyalty and emotional loyalty.
Behavioral loyalty relates to metrics like share of wallet, RFM score, duration as a customer and the like. Sometimes behaviorally loyal customers are very unlikely to switch. Other times, eh, not so much.
If you had the data you might conclude that I’m pretty loyal to my family doctor, my bank, my cell phone service provider and my most frequently used credit card because they all have a high share of my respective category spending and I’ve been with them a long time. But most of my perceived loyalty is, quite frankly, based upon inertia.
In fact, I have very little emotional loyalty to any of them; each meets my needs just well enough to retain me. Because I’m busy, because I perceive it’s a big hassle to switch and because it’s not clear that my alternatives are demonstrably superior, I don’t make much effort to explore my options. Of course, if they were to take the time to collect Net Promoter Score (or similar) type data on me, they would realize that my business is fragile, they could understand precisely why that is the case and, most importantly, they could take action to build true loyalty (and perhaps build positive word of mouth while they were at it).
It’s not hard to imagine two potential scenarios that might effect a more immediate defection.
The first is that they screw up badly. When a brand builds emotional loyalty, they get the benefit of the doubt when the inevitable mistake occurs. My quartet of so-so providers won’t get the same pass.
The second is when a new alternative emerges that sufficiently tilts the value equation. Inertial loyalty is no longer tolerated when someone makes it easy and/or powerfully better to switch.
Blackberry looked pretty solid until the Iphone and Android came along.
Blockbuster had pretty compelling market share until NetFlix and Redbox emerged.
And so on.
If you are living off of inertial loyalty you might be in for a rude–and scarily fast–awakening.