Customer relationship : between influence and loyalty

In short : businesses try to improve their online influence,get closer to influencers and achieve better customer relationship online. But there’s still a major incoherence : not linking social CRM and loyalty programs may lead to neglect true loyal customers to the benefit to visible internauts and lose the first without getting anything out of the second.

While businesses have embarked on a race for influence and influencers on the web we can question the value of such strategies. I already discussed the limits of such approaches, which can be summed up in one sentence : the purpose is not to blow wind but to make the ship move.

But there’s another risk : missing true customers and even lose them. Knowing that acquiring a new customer is much more costly than retaining existing ones, the point is not trivial at all.

What am I thinking about ? The trend that makes businesses align the online treatment of their customers on their influence. Have a big Klout and you’ll get better and faster answers, even gifts and privileges. There are even offers that are kept people that have a klout above a given number. And what’s in for others ? Normal treatment at best, sometimes no treatment at all. Influencers first, other customers second.

A couple of points before I start ;

- beyond the limits of influence I already mentioned above, there are people with a poor online influence who are very influent in real life. They poorly exist online but their friends completely trusts them when it comes to buy something and request their opinion.

- influent does not mean customer. By putting influencers on a pedestal there is a risk of totally neglecting true loyal customers. Those who don’t make noise but conscientiously fill the coffers week after week, month after month while the influent is an occasional customer…if he’s a customer.

What do you think a true loyal customer think when he’s kept away from special operations, treated like negligible and put at a disadvantage compared to his friends who have a bigger clout and are not loyal customers. He gets upset, sad…and leaves like a lover abandoned to the benefit of a smooth talker. And even if his online influence is poor, he’ll be pleased to tell all his friends how you treat true customers.

I thought of it the other day, trying to tidy up my wallet. To be more precise, I was trying to find room for all the loyalty cards I have. By the way the only thing about loyalty in many of them just being their name. But one thing is sure : all these brands know how to score me as a customer based on how much and how often I spend and can say if I’m a true loyal customer or a “tourist”. Many of these brands are trying to improve their online presence and influence. And I bet few if not none of them will manage me based on my klout, the number of my followers and will never make the link with their loyalty program. Sometimes I’ll rank the same in both approaches, sometimes I’ll be under-ranked, and most of times I’ll be over-ranked regarding to my actual contribution to their business, compared with true customers that deserve more attention than me.

Don’t make me say what I’m not. The problem is not to care a lot of influencers, they can do a lot for a brand’s image and the probability they’ll drive “positive actions” from their audience is mathematically more important than with normal people. The problem is to neglect true customers.

While CRM tools are endlessly improving, while businesses are being told again and again how important it is to score internauts and how to do it, I’m surprised this deserves the name of customer relationship. As a matter of fact, except when social media is used for servicing, businesses don’t even know if someone is a customer or not and it’s impossible to link an internaut’s profile to a customer’s one while integrating loyalty programs systems with social CRM one should be a priority.

Unless one considers there is no added value to knowing who you talk to. That’s so “brick and mortar”…