Back in July 2012, I spoke at an event in Toronto. During my talk, I made a quip about whether or not anyone still used Canadian smartphone giant BlackBerry (previously known as RIM).

While it was a throwaway joke that most people laughed at, it attracted its share of criticism too. James Howe, for example, thought it was classless and a low blow at a Canadian institution (for the record, we had a chat afterward and have since had beers and spoke at the same event, so all good).

Recently, on Facebook, I answered a question about the viability of BlackBerry to survive as they are, with both Google’s Android system and Apple’s iPhone essentially owning the smartphone market. I suggested BlackBerry couldn’t, even though I really wanted them to succeed, being a Canadian company.

For that answer, I was called unpatriotic, and not loyal to seeing Canadian companies succeed. The unpatriotic part made me smile, as I’m a Scot who moved to Canada and took up residency in 2006, so I guess that part was true (even though I feel at least half-Canadian now).

But it was the loyalty part that stuck with me, because for me, loyalty isn’t a given. Instead, it needs to be earned and constantly nurtured – something BlackBerry started to slip at in recent years.

Loyalty is All About the Customer

The biggest misconception brands have when it comes to the loyalty question is the definition of where it starts and what it looks like.

Too many make the mistake that loyalty begins and ends with great offers and meeting the customer’s needs at point-of-sale. While this definitely impacts how a customer views your brand, it’s a small part of the much bigger picture.

Any brand can offer great discounts. Any brand can undercut competitors and make an offer a customer really can’t refuse. Any brand can make split decisions in the showroom or retail space, and entice the customer to buy because of that decision (an extra 10% off, for example, or an extra year’s warranty).

That’s the easy part – but it doesn’t build loyalty.¬†Instead, the bigger customer experience is key.

  • How does this product answer my immediate needs?
  • How does this product make me feel?
  • What’s the brand experience like?
  • How does the after service look, both reactively and proactively?
  • How does the brand listen to feedback and future product suggestions?
  • Does this improve my everyday life through use?

These are just some of the very simple, yet important, questions that brands need to consider when it comes to loyalty building.

Building customer loyalty

My co-author on Influence Marketing, Sam Fiorella, heads up the Customer Experience agency Sensei Marketing, and provides a wealth of information on this hugely important aspect of your customer’s “relationship” with you.

Delivering on Expectations

Back in the 80’s and 90’s, I was a huge proponent of Japanese video game giant SEGA. While popular thinking said their big competitor Nintendo had the better hardware and video game mascots, there was something about SEGA that just resonated more.

This saw me support each new hardware release without question (even the dud Mega-CD / 32X combo). No matter what the press might say, and what my friends were playing, SEGA met my needs consistently.

  • Their hardware took risks. They were the first console manufacturer to offer mass Internet gaming, and accessories like their R360 unit were groundbreaking.
  • Their games were some of the most innovative on the market. From the beauty of Shenmue, to the addictiveness of Chu Chu Rocket, or the weirdness of Seaman, SEGA consistently pushed the envelope on what video games should be.
  • They were a gamer’s game company, as shown by their arcade heritage and their determination to bring that experience home with each hardware update.

Sadly, this innovation came at a cost. Nintendo’s devout fanbase proved hard to crack, and when Sony entered the market with their PlayStation, it heralded a new mass market gaming industry, where quantity of games over quality of games talked.

SEGA couldn’t compete, and left the hardware market in 2001. If they were to come out with a new system tomorrow, though, I’d be first in line – because they always delivered. They’ve earned my trust through consistency and understanding what SEGA fans were all about.

Why Loyalty Is Not a Given

Which brings me back to BlackBerry. In recent years, it almost seemed like Canadians bought new handsets from the Waterloo, Ontario giant purely because it was Canadian, and it’s just “always been the way”.

And, for a while, that made sense.

BlackBerry delivered on its promises. Its hardware was secure, making it perfect for Enterprise-level organizations and small business owners everywhere. Its operating system was one of the best around. And it’s BBM messaging service was a unique feature not found anywhere else.

And then then wheels came off.

Whether it was arrogance based on its lofty position, or the fact no-one had come close to disrupting its Enterprise model, BlackBerry got complacent, expecting that its name alone would be enough. And it might have been, had it not been for a combination of circumstances that looks to have sealed the company’s fate.

  • Its physical QWERTY keyboard seemed misplaced as more users switched to touchscreen phones from Apple and Google.
  • Its previously strong Enterprise relationship softened, as IT managers acquiesced to employees that preferred to buy their own phones and have them hook into the corporate server.

Add to the fact that BlackBerry seemed out of touch with what its loyal customers really wanted, and the stage was set for the Canadian giant’s fall from grace, one that’s led to the possibility of the company being sold.

While there are several factors contributing to BlackBerry’s downfall, the loss of loyalty from even its staunchest supporters can’t be underestimated.

BlackBerry may have made the mistake of thinking loyalty would always be a given, but when they failed to deliver on the simplest of experiences, that’s when a customer’s true loyalty is tested, as the company is finding out today.

Something we can all learn from.

image: Pure Metal Cards
image: Hans Mestrum

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