My Column from the Nashua Telegraph – August 21, 2013

Customer Loyalty Stands Test of Time

When was the last time you experienced truly amazing customer service?

We all know it when we see it. It makes a huge impression on us. But great customer service is rare. Despite all the stuff you read about how important it is, and how it helps create brand loyalty, very few businesses are able to attain it, let alone maintain it.

I experienced amazing customer service a couple of weeks ago at one of Nashua’s landmark local stores, where management and staff went above and beyond the call to take care of me as a customer.

It happened at Jeannotte’s Market, the little white grocery store that has been a fixture on the corner of Courtland and Manchester streets in Nashua for decades.

There is a lot of competition in the grocery business. Nonetheless, Jeannotte’s remains relevant to the daily lives of most of Nashua’s North End families. Part of its success lies in the fact that every day it sends a message to its customers that it is family friendly and neighborhood oriented. The key element in Jeannotte’s branding strategy is trust. Customers trust Jeannotte’s, and Jeannotte’s trusts them. Jeannottes, for example, grants regular customers the privilege of buying goods on credit. This is a rare, old school convenience for parents and their kids in the neighborhood. More importantly, it reinforces a message: We trust our customers.

But Jeannotte’s customers also know that while Jeannotte’s trusts them, they can trust Jeannotte’s. Owner Glynn Bingham pays attention to what happens in his store and in the neighborhood. He’ll allow children of account holders to make use of the accounts, but at the first sign of abuse, he’s on the phone with the parents about putting a stop to it. Those parents receive the message loud and clear: You can trust us. This is simple but elegant branding, and is the foundation of what makes Jeannotte’s successful.

My recent experience reinforced this message once again. I was in a hurry, and somehow managed to leave a $20 bill in the ATM machine at the store. Truthfully, I never missed it. But on the next day, I received a call from Glynn, informing me that I had left the money in the machine, and that he had my $20 in his office. I was incredulous. How did they recover the money, let alone know it was mine?

Glynn told me one of their staff had found the bill in the machine. Then, they had reviewed the records of the use of the machine and determined whose money it was. How many other convenience stores would go to such lengths to return a missing $20? Not too many, I would venture to guess.

There is a moral in this story for all businesses: Small acts can have a big impact on customer loyalty.

I have since learned this was not an isolated act. I was not the first patron to leave money in the ATM machine only to have the store return it to its rightful owner. This method of operation is what has branded Jeanotte’s as a store customers can count on.

This, of course, is not the only way to create customer loyalty. Lots of companies use social media to enhance their brands, and some do so quite successfully. One example of an organization that has leveraged social media effectively is the Newport Folk Festival, held each year over the last weekend in July in Newport, R.I.

The nonprofit organization that runs the Newport Folk Festival spends virtually zero dollars on marketing and advertising. Nonetheless, it manages to sell every available ticket to the three day event. Remarkably, they did it this year before even one act playing the festival was announced. They accomplish this because of the unparalleled loyalty of their patrons. Those patrons are loyal because, for a number of years, the festival has provided them with a consistently excellent concert experience.

Less money spent on marketing and advertising allows the organizers to plow more money into the music and the festival itself. Fans know the quality of the music will be top notch, and that the event will be well run. The fact that the festival sold out before announcing its acts evidences unparalleled brand loyalty and trust among its customers.

The way the organizers use social media to leverage this trust is worthy of note. Tweets and Facebook postings appear sparingly during the year, but increase in volume as the festival date draws near. Eventually, tickets go on sale. Only when they are close to sold out are the participating acts announced, one or two at a time, via social media. For ticket holders, the excitement mounts. Then, the organizers make allow attendees to download the festival schedule to their smartphones through an app. The promotional campaign is brilliant, and best of all for the organizers, virtually free.

While Jeannotte’s Market and the Newport Folk Festival are two totally different ventures, each has its own way of creating trust with its customers, and loyalty to its brand. While their methods may be different, the end result is the same: a brand and a business that stands the test of time.