Milt & The Essence of Customer Loyalty

Apr 5, 2011

If you can remember, there was a day when fueling up your vehicle was a full service affair. Even before consumers were given the choice of full serve and self-serve pumps, gas stations used to operate in a way that didn’t require the driver to exit their vehicle – unless nature was calling.

Growing up in Western New York, my family frequented a gas station owned by “Milt”. Milt was an icon, representative of reliability and good service. Just like a good bartender who remembers what the regulars drink, or a barista who knows if you like Equal or Splenda in your latte, Milt had a bead on the neighborhood. He would remember when you were ready for an oil change, make note of a “funny little noise” in the engine that might need attention, and always be on the lookout to save you some potential car trouble.

One day, my brother and I drove in to the station and a new face walked out to offer service. Milt was apparently off that day. We asked the new gent if he would fill our tires with air and swap out our wiper blades for new ones. He returned a quizzical look. Apparently those tasks hadn’t been on his training list and he was not about to perform them for us. We tried to explain that we were regular customers and that Milt knew us. Our appeal fell on deaf ears and we left the station miffed.

Fortunately, and probably because of our long term loyalty to Milt, we returned in a day or so to try again. Sure enough the familiar face of proprietor approached our car and we received all the attention and service we had hoped for on the previous visit. Our satisfaction levels, like our air pressure, were returned to normal and our faith and loyalty to Milt was restored.

The essence of this story is exactly what brands hope to accomplish with their loyalty programs in today’s market. Deliver a value proposition that creates long term sustainable repeat purchase and brand loyalty. Position that value proposition to protect the brand from a service glitch. Recognize the better and more valuable customers with more than the standard good service by offering a perk or two to make them feel special.

The difference between the days of Milt and today is simple. In the quaint old tale told here, Milt was the “delivery channel” for this value proposition. Today we have multiple channels through which to communicate and the levels of complexity of actual offers is mind-boggling.

Milt reminds us of the essence of customer loyalty. He also demonstrated the essential elements of delivering an outstanding customer experience.

Sometimes, going back to basics is the best thing we can do to re-energize our current marketing efforts. Before you drift into the vortex of the next multi-channel, location-based, socially enabled, super-charged strategy, remember Milt.

If you get that part right, the rest will fall into place.