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Loyalty is complicated

What is loyalty? And does it matter? And if it does, how do you get it? Loyalty is complicated.

5 minute read.

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Well, it is, and it isn’t.

Loyalty matters, especially now. As society is moving to a more compassionate state, this is an opportunity to review your organizations mission, vision and values.

Like a lot of families in lockdown, we organized a quiz evening via House Party in April. And because I was the Quiz Master - and know that my partner is far too good at general knowledge - I took the questions from a game called ‘It’s All About you’. With questions such as: If mum was an animal, what would she be? When dad has a shower, which body part does he wash first? One of my questions was: What do I think is the most important quality in a friend? The options were: honesty, loyalty or not being boring. I went for loyalty. Which, for various reasons, has been on my mind a lot recently.

So, what is loyalty? And does it matter? And if it does, how do you get it? Well, dictionaries seem to agree that loyalty is about integrity, sincerity, support, trustworthiness and reliability. Which makes it complicated. And complexity can be challenging. I’ve been a quant researcher for years and I want to boil everything down into easy-to-understand questions and neutral, logical, valid answer options. I don’t (really) want to expand and explore; I want to summarize and crystallize. I was thinking about that tension yesterday, listening to Sara Pascoe’s audiobook ‘Sex Power Money’ when she gave the caveat: “Discussing sex and biology means stamping with large and insensitive boots over the fragile flower that is individual human experience.”1 I sometimes worry that I’m an insensitive flower stamper, a reductionist who boils the flavor out of life. And then I take a breath.

So, loyalty is complicated. It’s about acting with integrity; it’s about being consistent and dependable; it’s about having people’s backs. (But which people and what does ‘having their backs’ mean? You may genuinely believe that you’re acting in someone’s best interest; they may genuinely believe that your actions are bad and wrong.) I set up Voice of Customer research programs and putting a customer loyalty metric in place, and working out what’s driving that score, tends to be a key focus. Oh the reassuring beauty of numbers, metrics and stats tests: select a metric to gauge loyalty (typically Net Promoter Score, NPS) and then identify the factors that you need to get right to drive up that score (from a digital perspective, it’s usually by having a website and app that’s easy to login to, easy to navigate, use and search through; that’s reliable, consistently available and doesn’t have those irritating outages or frustrating interstitial adverts). My boots may sometimes be large and insensitive, but they’re helping me to see trends and patterns. And they’re helping me to make recommendations about how to engage with people more effectively. So, it’s complicated, but there are some overarching themes.

Neon sign with the words stick with me

Although let’s stay with the idea of complexity for a little bit longer. Thinking about individual human experiences can be useful, it can hold us to account (I’m not employee 2014XXX, I’m me, I’ve got a face and a name and that thing you did hurt me; and now you will never have my loyalty!) I think that sometimes we forget about people. Businesses are people. Customers are people. Employees are people. I was recently introduced to the term ‘othering’, which means excluding and displacing people who are not like us, removing them from the social group and putting them at the margins of society. I think there’s a risk that looking at trends, stats, numbers (and sometimes business processes) alone, can drive a lack of empathy. In our Research & Insight practice, we’ve spent time defining our purpose and we’ve settled on: “We believe helping humans to continuously understand each other, and become more responsive to one another’s needs, is central to successful transformation”. One core pillar that supports our purpose is all about complexity: “appreciating human complexity to build empathy and connection”. I think that if we lose sight of people, faces and names, it can affect our empathy and that can affect our ability to create, sustain and inspire loyalty.

But does loyalty matter? And if it does, how do you get it? Broadly speaking, loyalty matters because those who aren’t loyal to your organization (in NPS speak, Detractors) are more likely to churn or take their business somewhere else; or they’re more likely to switch jobs. Whereas loyal customers (Promoters) stay longer and spend more. And loyal employees work harder, are more productive and are less likely to up sticks to one of your competitors. So how do you create, sustain and inspire loyalty? It’s interesting to look at that question based on our current experiences with COVID-19. We’ve been running some mixed-method research to understand how the global pandemic is changing how we live and work. We’ve been providing regular reporting and these two ‘implications for tomorrow’ jumped out at me:

  • As society is moving to a more compassionate state, this is an opportunity to review your organizations mission, vision and values – do they still resonate, and do they address your changed customer and employee base. This is a chance to define your more compassionate normal.
  • Consider moving your organization towards an overarching principle of inclusion, in which staff at all levels within the organization feel valued, are treated fairly and equitably and able to speak out when they see the opposite.

These are important implications to review and consider.

Oh, and finally, which animal would my mum be? A poodle apparently. And which body part does my dad wash first in the shower? Hmmm. Let’s say hands. Don’t worry dad, I’ll spare your blushes, you’ll always have my loyalty.

This material has been prepared for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be relied upon as legal, accounting, tax or other professional advice. Please refer to your advisors for specific advice.

  1. Pascoe, S. (2019) Sex Power Money. Faber & Faber. ↩︎