How to build loyalty

This is not theory.  This is not guesswork.  This is the real deal.

A few weeks ago I was working with a client and got to speaking with one of the long term (30+ years) employees.  He told me a story about a meeting he had with the company owner back in his first year.  Here is what he said:

“Back then, it was almost unheard of for someone who had only been with the company for a short time to be in a meeting with the owner.  But, there I was.

I was nervous, and didn’t want to say or do the wrong thing. About 1/2 way through the meeting, the owner’s secretary comes into the room and hands me a note.

The owner could tell something was wrong by the look on my face, so he asked to see the note.

I handed it to him and then he asked me, “What are you waiting for? We can do this meeting another time. Get out of here.”

The note said that my son had broken his arm at school and that he and my wife were on their way to the hospital.  Being new, and not wanting to screw up, I was conflicted with what I should do.  This meeting was a big deal, at least in my mind.

But the owner saw it differently.  He knew that family came first, and more importantly, not to make people choose between family and the company.  

From that day on, my loyalty has been pledged to this organization.”

So often we hear managers complain about the lack of loyalty they see from their employees.  If this story is any indication, it’s likely because the managers haven’t shown any loyalty or caring to their employees first… they haven’t made the first investment in the relationship.

Like respect and trust, loyalty is not given – it’s earned.  You don’t get to complain about someone not being loyal to you if you have not shown them that you are worthy of being loyal to.  And as a leader, you HAVE to take the first step.

As we saw above, sometimes that comes from encouraging an employee to put other interests above work.  Eeeek, I know!!

Let’s say Johnny has to leave work early to go to football camp.  What if, instead of complaining about it, you actually encouraged him?  Ask him how long he’s been playing football… what position does he play?  Does he have a favorite team?  Show some interest in what he is interested in.

This shows that you value him as a person, not just as an employee.  Value builds trust, trust builds respect, and respect builds loyalty.  And loyal employees come back to help out when they can.  Maybe Johnny’s practices interfere with the park’s schedule in August, but in September and October, when he is free on Sunday, he will be more likely to come back to work for the person who made him feel good about pursuing his passion rather than the person who made him feel bad because he wouldn’t be there to make funnel cakes.

I think this gives additional perspective to the reality that people don’t leave companies, they leave leaders.  This also means that they stay, or come back, because of the leaders who understand that giving loyalty first is the only way to earn it.

Thanks for reading!

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How strong is your brand?

Last week I had the good fortune of traveling to Minnesota to visit my old stomping grounds, Valleyfair.  It was wonderful to see all the fantastic people I used to work with, as well as all of the positive changes and additions that have taken place throughout the park.

One morning in the hotel, I overheard a question that really got me thinking about brand loyalty.

A guest walked up to the front desk and asked the employee where the closest Caribou Coffee was.  Ironically, not 15 feet from where he was standing was an assortment of FREE coffee.  He didn’t have to leave the hotel or pay a dime for it.  Yet he was willing to do both.

Before I determined that this was really about a particular cup o’ joe, I thought about other reasons why he would choose to leave the hotel.  One possibility was that he was meeting someone… but then he would have asked for a particular address, not just the closest one.

So it seems he was choosing to go out and buy a certain product when a free alternative was already well within reach.  Hmmm….

What was driving that decision?  If it’s truly about the coffee, then it has to be some fierce product/brand loyalty (or he had tried the coffee at the hotel and it was really that bad).  Is YOUR company brand strong enough to get people to choose you over the other (and possibly cheaper) alternatives?

Every business has competition.  In the attractions business, we often discuss that even if there isn’t another similar business in the area, we still compete with any place that potential guests can choose to spend their leisure money and time.  And often, that decision comes down to trust.

Can they trust that you will deliver what you promised in your advertising?  If they have visited you before, they have personal experience to help (or hinder) that decision.  If they haven’t, they are relying on your ads, recommendations from friends and online postings from other visitors.  If they do choose to visit you, then it’s time to make sure you are living up to your promise… so they’ll choose you again.

No one likes to be promised something only to have that promise broken.  Our friend who was seeking the nearest Caribou location had built up a trust with that company and their products enough to know that it was worth the trek (and the price).  They delivered on their promise in his mind, and he was paying them back with his loyal patronage.

What are you promising to your guests, and are you delivering?

Thanks for reading!

About the author: Matt Heller is not a coffee drinker, but he plays one on TV.