I say that there is a ‘price’ attached to everything and it is always paid. What is open to influence is ‘who’ pays the ‘price’. The question I wish to address in this conversation is this one: what is the price of customer loyalty and who pays it?
Let’s leave aside theory for those that specialise in it: the professors, the authors, the ‘gurus’. And look at this question in the concrete – through my lived experience. In particular, let’s look at two recent events and experiences.
Churchill: The Price of Customer Loyalty Is a 70% Mark Up
Recently, I got a renewal reminder from Churchill regarding the car insurance policy I have with this organisation. The price was around £320. And I was assured that I was taken care of, needed to do nothing, was in safe hands and this insurance would be renewed automatically.
In the early part of my business life I got a good look inside the insurance industry. What struck me was how the folks in the insurance industry did everything in their power to not pay customer claims including legitimate claims. Where paying out could not be stopped, the focus was on delaying payment as long as possible (money in the bank earns interest for the insurance company) and making an effort to get the customer to agree to a smaller amount than the customer was due.
With this in mind, and a niggle at the back of my mind suggesting that the previous year the premium had been less than £200, I started my due diligence on the insurance comparison websites. Guess who showed up among the most competitive insurance providers? Churchill. Guess what the premium was? £187
Let’s take a good look at this from a loyalty perspective. The price of loyalty was to be paid by me as follows: increase in premium of £133 which amounts to a markup (on the £187) of 71%.
What did Churchill offer me in return for this extra premium? Nothing. The only difference between the £187 (on website) and the £320 (renewal) was that I got less cover! The £187 premium included free car breakdown insurance, the £320 premium did not.
What did I do? I took out a new policy for £187 and then rang to cancel the renewal. How did the call-centre agent respond? She asked me to allow her to match the best quote I had got elsewhere. I told her that Churchill had already done that. When I explained that I had taken out a new policy via the website she told me that it was normal for new customers to get a better deal especially if they sign-up online.
What else did she do? She told me off. For what? For taking out a new policy and messing up the internal system. What would she have liked me to do? Ring up Churchill, ask them to match the quote, get the renewal premium amended and continue with the existing policy. It occurs to me that Churchill is a true outside-in organisation which understands the customer and focuses on the customer experience. How else does one come up with this radical approach to doing business? Joking! And sadly, the orientation is the default one despite all the talk.
Lesson for Customers: Never trust a commercial organisation to have your interests at heart. The standard practice is to sell you what makes most revenue-profit for the organisation this year.
Lesson for Enterprises: Given the radical transparency and ease of shopping facilitated by the internet it is necessary to pay attention to your pricing policies; not all customers are lazy, ignorant, or wealthy especially in the current economic climate.
RAC: The Price of Customer Loyalty Is a 12% Mark Up
We received a renewal reminder from the RAC. Like Churchill, the RAC assured me that I was in safe hands, had to do nothing, the renewal would take place automatically. Given the comprehensive cover I have (UK, Europe, Number of People, Services) the sum of £342 did not seem too much. As I was doing the Churchill search on the net, I did the same for car breakdown cover.
I chose only to look at two organisations: RAC and the AA. RAC turned out to be just as competitive as the AA. Given my positive experiences with both organisations, I did not mind which ended up providing the cover. When I plugged in my cover requirements from the renewal reminder into the RAC website, I found the same cover for £322. No big difference.
Seeing myself as a Customer Experience investigator, I chose to call the RAC. I selected the ‘going elsewhere option’ on the IVR. The agent answered the call, I told him the situation. He was helpful and investigated. What renewal premium did he offer me? Better than I was looking at on the RAC website. He offered me a renewal premium of £307. I took up the offer.
So let’s do the maths. The price of customer loyalty is still paid by the customer. It is just that in the case of the RAC the price is much lower: £35 representing a mark up (on £307) of 12%.
Lesson for Customers: Not all enterprises are out to get you to pay every penny. Some like the RAC settle for charging you modest amounts (mark up) in exchange for the convenience of doing nothing – saving you time and effort.
Lesson for Enterprises: Charging modest premiums in exchange for convenience is likely to be better received-experienced by your customers; I view RAC rather differently than Churchill – the latter shows up for me as greedy, the RAC shows up as fundamentally ok. If you do get caught like the RAC did then consider being gracious and generous like the RAC agent. Why? Because, it left me with the experience of gratitude to RAC rather than the experience of getting satisfaction at besting greedy Churchill.
It occurs to me that companies have made a mess of customer loyalty as they have viewed this in a selfish (transactional) manner. They have viewed loyalty in terms of getting more money from customers. And by necessity the cost of customer loyalty falls on the customer: the customer pays to be loyal, stick with existing supplier.
So the opening for those who are up for a radical approach to doing business arises with grappling with this question: how can we create superior value for the customer such that s/he stays with us and is happy to pay a premium? It occurs to me that Apple has been doing a great job at answering this question through its hardware, software, and ecosystem. Which may explain why its value has rocketed over the last ten years. And why the market in used Apple hardware on eBay is more than all the other PC companies combined.
Image via flickr