What turns a repeat customer into a loyal customer?

Trappe Digital LLC may earn commission from product clicks and purchases. Rest assured, opinions are mine or of the article’s author.

What’s the difference between a repeat customer and a loyal customer? That’s the question Shep Hyken addresses in his new book “I’ll be back.” He also joined me on an episode of the Business Storytelling Show to discuss the topic.

To me the difference really comes down to this:

A repeat customer buys from a business over and over. But they may not have that emotional connection to the business. For example, I may buy Diet Cokes repeatedly but I will also drink Diet Pepsis. At the end of the day, I’m not that invested in either brand. I just want a diet drink of that kind with some caffeine. Others feel stronger about the difference and that might make them loyal customers, indeed.

A loyal customer has some kind of emotional connection to the brand. They appreciate the experience and may even go to bat for a brand when somebody attacks it – on social media, for example.

Read next: Your guide to making online reviews work for your business

Why I’m a repeat customer loyal customer of American Airlines

While I don’t travel nearly as much currently as I did between 2017 and 2019, I would consider myself a loyal customer of American Airlines. In part it’s because of experiences like this one:

How far American had to take my missing coat.

I have had American Airlines’ top tier status from 2017 through 2022 and the perks that come with it have made it easy for me to become a repeat customer and ultimately a loyal customer.

What happened in Charlotte likely deepened the bond even more.

I flew Cedar Rapids to Charlotte then onto JFK in New York City to catch a flight to Barcelona where I was speaking at a conference.

As I boarded in Cedar Rapids I decided to put my coat in the overhead bin and my backpack with laptop underneath the seat in front of me. I needed access to my laptop to work! That was a mistake. Not the working, but the coat in the bin. It’s a dumb decision anyway because in first class they take your coat and hang it up.

Once landed, I grabbed my backpack and roller bag plane side. The deplaning took a bit because they had issues aligning the jet bridge. Me watching that may have contributed to my inattentiveness.

My coat was safely stored in the overhead bin as I was on my way.

I didn’t even realize it for an hour or so while working at the Admirals Club in Charlotte. I tweeted American and they said that somebody will go and take a look.

A while later, they tweeted me again saying that the coat was found. I was paged at the club and they told me it will be at the next gate for me.

Whoa! I got to the new gate which wasn’t that close to my previous flight’s gate and there was an agent waiting for me with my coat folded neatly and wrapped with a cord.

Whoa. If that’s not a customer-focused example I don’t know what is.

Thanks American Airlines and stories like that certainly help with loyalty.

Loyal customers may share their experiences widely

Loyal customers also share brand stories widely. Sometimes person to person (yep, still a thing!), sometimes on social media and even on blogs. Just look at me blogging and mentioning American Airlines again.

Since they are loyal customers, the experiences shared are often positive ones. This kind of marketing, which doesn’t need a line item in the marketing budget by the way, happens when you provide good customer-focused service and then those customers happen to share it.

[Tweet “Provide good customer experiences and customers may share their experiences! “]

Good and streamlined communications can help

It drives me crazy when I’m calling a company and get transferred and transferred and transferred. “Sorry, somebody else is in charge of that.” Every transfer usually means I have to repeat my request, restate my password, my name, remember where my wife and I met, etc. etc. Come on, people. This is not customer service. It’s a game of keeping the customer away from more important things.

So when companies break this terrible mode of operation, it can turn customers into loyal customers.

I get that sometimes a call needs to be forwarded, but they all are using computers, right? I hope. There should be some continuity in the conversation. So it was a delight when I was transferred on a call before and the second person said: “One moment, Mr. Trappe. Let me just review my colleague’s notes.”

Even though that took a few seconds, it was so much more pleasant than me having to repeat the request over and over and over, which is how some companies handle this kind of thing. She was caught up with the notes, had the right skills or access or whatever and took care of everything. #Done.

[Tweet “Creating good customer experiences is everyone’s job!”]

Whose job is it to turn a repeat customer into a loyal customer?

Shep and I certainly had plenty of air travel stories to share on the show. At the end of the day, it’s everyone’s job to work on deepening the relationship with customers. Traveling, we see the flight attendants, desk staff, maybe some others. All of them need to focus on making the experience great. But also the baggage handlers, Shep said. Once, his bag was damaged and that also damaged the customer relationship. Even though he never sees the baggage handlers, when the bag comes out late or damaged that can quickly turn customers away.

Consider building a fan base – not a customer base

Mack Collier in his book “Think Like a Rock Star” makes the case that brands need to think differently about their customers.

Mack discusses why rock stars have fans and why businesses have customers. Rock stars – or musicians in general – want fans. Businesses typically want customers, Mack says.

But why don’t businesses think of their most loyal customers as fans? He talks about how rock stars empower their fans, connect with them on a personal level and how fans carry their message forward. Even when rock stars can’t connect with every single fan, other fans see the displayed connectedness and appreciation of them.

Ultimately, this connects the rock stars more to their fans and in the long run helps their business, too!

Mack shares thoughts and plans on how businesses can implement some of these fan-based approaches.

Mack has a point. We do business with people and brands that we are connected to. Engaging and connecting with customers like rock stars connect with fans can build closer connections.

At the end of the day, businesses want to grow and customers don’t want to live with crappy experiences. Let’s make experiences great and help each other. Grab Shep’s book here. If you need to hear from your customers on what they need from you, try video surveys here.

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Listen to my podcast