It is said that French is the language of love, but in 1992 marriage counselor Gary Chapman published a book outlining five of them. Since then, The Five Love Languages about the five universal ways of demonstrating love has spent more than 350 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list and spawned a cottage industry of advice.
Customers deserve love too, of course. While researching our new book, Winning on Purpose: The Unbeatable Strategy of Loving Customers, my co-authors Fred Reichheld, Maureen Burns, and I found that companies that treat their customers with love outperform their competitors and boast happier employees. So, this Valentine’s Day, why not spend a little time applying Chapman’s insights to your customers? They certainly deserve the love.
Love language 1: Words of affirmation
Customers want to know a company values them and their loyalty. American Express, a leader in customer Net Promoter Scores (NPS), famously lists “Member Since” dates on the front of every credit card. It’s such a valued recognition of loyalty that American Express’s cardmembers worry that card changes could cause the clock to restart. It has seemed that acquiring customers as fast as possible was in fashion. Now the pendulum is swinging back. Think of all the telecom ads that emphasize that all current customers get the same deal as new customers, and the many, many subscription companies that know retention is as important as acquisition.
When your customers love you, it feels good. Sharing positive feedback with your frontline and design teams inspires those teams to share even more love with customers, creating a virtuous cycle. Early in the Covid-19 pandemic, our colleague Rob Markey interviewed Maureen on the Net Promoter System Podcast about surveying customers during this tumultuous time, and the importance of passing the thanks along to employees as inspiration and motivation. “A lot of these employees have traditionally been treated pretty poorly by customers,” Maureen noted. “If this is a moment when we understand that those folks coming to work every day at banks, at grocery stores, are really essential, that’s a good thing, and those employees should hear directly from customers.”
Love language 2: Quality time
As the world moves digital, new experiences can bring frustrations, such as not being able to reach a live person to resolve an issue or having to navigate systems that make it time consuming to get support or to cancel a subscription. No loyal customer wants their time wasted.
At Discover 84% of all credit card episodes are handled digitally. The share of interactions that go through human channels is less than half what it is at competitors. But, because there are so few episodes that require human intervention, Discover can ensure skilled and well-trained agents handle all that do. The result: When customers interact with Discover, their needs are met during the first contact around 80% of the time. It’s just the right amount of quality time, done right.
Love language 3: Acts of service
Many customers today value brands that enrich their lives and make the world a better place. One example: To help the tens of thousands fleeing a life-threatening crisis in Afghanistan, hosting platform Airbnb partnered with resettlement agencies to fund temporary stays for 20,000 or more Afghan refugees, waived fees, and provided support for hosts who offered short-term stays for free or at a discount.
Such acts of service are most often done by frontline employees. In Winning on Purpose, we describe a First Service employee, a relatively new lead installer for its California Closets subsidiary, who had just garnered the company a five-star review on Yelp. It had nothing to do with closets. The employee noticed a car with a flat tire pulling out of a convenience store, alerted the owner, and helped put on the emergency spare, turning what could have been a horrible day into “a heart-warming day,” as the reviewer wrote. The employee later told his supervisor that he felt confident taking time out of his schedule for this act of kindness because it was the right thing to do and he believed the company trusted him to make the right decision.
Customers value acts of service for the greater good and they appreciate it when employers allow the humans at the front line to make choices to serve them well.
Love language 4: Gifts
For customers, it truly is the thought that counts. The monetary value of a gift is far less important than the thoughtfulness, the surprise, and the delight in the moment. Domino’s built a whole campaign around this idea when, in lieu of the fees delivery services add, the pizza company decided to give away $50 million of “surprise frees”—pizzas, lava cakes, and other goodies delivered at random to people who had ordered on the Domino’s app.
Gifts aren’t necessarily physical things. An experience can also be a gift. Many companies in the travel and leisure industry are working hard to get that just right as the traveling public dusts off its luggage.
Love language 5: Touch
If Covid-19 isolation has taught us anything, it’s how important human interaction is. Many companies increasingly pair digital options with live interaction and retail experiences that are real and human. Think of digitally native customer-love champion Warby Parker’s expansion of its retail store network as customers seek out hybrid experiences. Now they’re in person and human when they need to be—when getting your eyes examined, for example—and not when they don’t—say, when replacing yet another pair of lost eyeglasses.
Consumers, like life partners, are complicated. Understanding how to express love in the way your customers want to receive it is the essence of communicating how much you value them and their business.
I recently read Vogue’s reporting on British beauty brand Lush’s decision to leave four major social media platforms, concerned by the negative impact social media algorithms have on the mental health of the young girls that comprise Lush’s core demographic. A move not without risk, it clearly broadcasts how much the company cares for its customers, giving employees reason to be proud, and staking out a path to sustainable growth. Now that’s a love letter worth writing.