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How to inspire loyalty and retention


Hint: Make it personal

By Kathleen Quinn Votaw

Everything is personal. We all know that from firsthand experience. Who doesn’t like to be complimented or remembered? Feel valued or part of something more? And who doesn’t hate being treated unfairly or ignored? We are emotional creatures, so it’s natural that our loyalty goes to the people and places that make us feel best. What perplexes me is why so many businesses still ignore this fact.

Where businesses go wrong is in assuming that if they offer a good product or service and market it effectively, that’s basically all that matters. The customers will come; the employees will stay. They assume employees will be happy enough if they get a little training, a few benefits and get paid about the same as the person down the block. Apparently, none of these assumptions are true, but they are definitely costly in terms of lost business potential and dollar outlay.

The facts are: 78 percent of consumers are not loyal to a particular brand (Nielsen); 70 percent of customers cite poor service as a reason for not buying from a brand (McKinsey); and more than 60 percent of customers stop dealing with a company because of an employee’s perceived indifference (Target Training International). The average company loses 20-50 percent of its employee base each year (Bain & Company). The typical cost of per-employee replacement is usually cited as 150 percent of a person’s annual salary, and much more for executives. If your company is anywhere near these rates, you have a loyalty issue.

A web of interconnectivity

Customer loyalty and retention and employee loyalty and retention are locked together in a web of interconnectivity. It’s neither “customers first,” nor “employees first,” it’s actually “leadership first.” The role of a leader is to inspire and motivate—and, along with employees, drive engagement and build trust. This takes time, commitment and continual effort. As you improve and succeed in building a great culture, you’ll be touching the emotions of everyone in your organization—and one of those emotions will be happiness. In my experience, great leaders spend a good portion of their time focusing on employee happiness.

What, specifically, can a leader do to create a culture of loyalty? First, be a leader who listens. The only way you can understand what your employees and customers want, and what concerns them, is to ask and then listen; engage them and actively seek their suggestions. Asking and listening show your care and respect. Taking action on what people say shows how much you value their input and engagement. (And don’t forget to communicate your actions, otherwise how will they know?)

Hire the right people and trust them. Give them a career path. Give them the training and support to be confident and highly productive; the latitude to make decisions on the spot; and the license to create WOW experiences for your customers.

Treat employees as individuals with needs, desires and dreams. Make sure that your organizational culture values and supports learning, teamwork and flexibility. Practice acts of kindness by bending the rules in exceptional situations and noting important events in people’s lives. Recognize people’s accomplishments with handwritten notes or a pat on the back in a visit to their cube. There is nothing in the world like recognition from the boss. The words of a leader build strong bridges.

Do things that make people proud to work for your company, or to buy from it. Support your community in every way that makes sense for your heart and your business, and give employees time to do the same.

Research supports the value of making it personal. It shows that emotionally connected employees are more engaged and productive, and they feel validated and appreciated. By promoting your business with genuine enthusiasm, your people make your customers feel the same way, emotionally connected and appreciated. That kind of satisfaction, plus a good product or service, is what drives loyalty.

In short, you build employee and customer loyalty by treating people how they want to be treated. Personally, I believe that is the axiom for inspiration.

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