As careful observers of the customer loyalty space, we get a bit excited about the annual 2014 Brand Keys Customer Loyalty Engagement Index (or CLEI) report. For the unfamiliar, think of it as a giant report card on consumer sentiment and brand loyalty. The report compiles survey results from consumers who are asked about the brands they use, their expectations of those brands, and how satisfied they are with how brands have met those expectations.
Every year the big names get the headlines - Apple, Google, Amazon, NFL, Dunkin' Donuts - and for good reason. They're great brands that consistently match (and often exceed) customer expectations.
But therein lies the growing issue: expectations. Underneath all the celebrations and applause for these amazing companies is a rapid acceleration of consumer expectations across the board.
The CLEI reports that consumer expectations rose by 30%, the highest in 20 years. What was an awesome, unique feature four years ago is expected today. The amazing customer service people saw from a particular company suddenly becomes the standard for everyone in the category. Consumers know that the competition for their dollars is fierce, and they're perfectly willing to sit back and let the brands fight it out.
But that's part of the problem. While consumer expectations soared, brands only grew 6%. The expectations aren't going to go away (see how consumers held brands hostage for deals during the 2013 holiday shopping season for an example) and there's an entire generation of price- and marketing-savvy consumers just now beginning to wield their power in the marketplace.
The solution? First, know your customers and their expectations. In other words, engage them and offer constant opportunities for two-way dialog. Chances are your customers don't have the same expectations of your brand as they do of their wireless provider or their preferred social network, but that doesn't mean they don't have specific things they want your brand to provide.
"Brands that better meet expectations for the values that drive engagement and loyalty are also brands better able to differentiate themselves from their competitors. Those brands can act as a surrogate for added-value and are rewarded, as we’ve said, with loyal and engaged customers who behave more positively toward the brand."
Brandon is a former writer and marketer for Access Development. He's a frequent blogger on customer and employee engagement & loyalty, consumer trends, and branding. Connect with him on LinkedIn or Twitter at @bscarter