Transparency is the key to customer loyalty

Loyalty is no longer a collection of points or putting a card in your wallet. It’s about building an emotional bond, proving your values and, most importantly, showing transparency, say brand leaders.

At this week’s inaugural’s two-day Customer Loyalty 2013 conference, we heard a handful of this region’s industry leaders sharing their two cents on retaining fans.

Kevin Coon, vice president of BMW group importer markets, extended his brand focus from design and speed to fuel efficiency with the first BMW electric car after the company realised that drivers are most concerned about the environment; while Pierre Abadie Lacourtoisie, regional director of digital and online at Estée Lauder, told of his social media strategy by extending the brand narrative from a pursuit of beauty to a journey to redefining radiance.

Though every speaker had a different take on loyalty, what they had in common is that it’s no longer a collection of points or putting a card in fans’ wallets; rather, it’s about building an emotional bond, proving your values and, most importantly, showing transparency.

According to the latest report by Cohn & Wolfe, China even ranked honesty higher than price when considering a product: 73% of the surveyed Chinese population has adapted a habit of checking whether companies comply with product quality and safety standards.

“The key insight for major brands is clear: embrace transparency and openness like never before, and consumers will reward you for it. Conversely, they may well vote with their wallets if you don’t,” said Geoff Beattie, Cohn & Wolfe global head of corporate affairs.

“Even if a company is sitting on information which may cause negative public reactions in the short run, it is better to be open with consumers and admit failings where they occur. The public will forgive you for mistakes, but not for covering them up.”

This, too, was the strategy of Cheryl Yue, executive assistant manager of sales at marketing at W Hong Kong, who said that her hotel tries to act immediately in the face of online complaints.

“We try to see if the guest is still on site, if they are, we try to get someone at that outlet to address the problem to turn what we call a ‘whoops’, to a ‘wow’ experience.”

Lydia Shen, managing director of Cohn & Wolfe China, added that this is a phenomenon prevalent across all income sectors.

“Not only do consumers have more spending power, even amongst lower-income consumers there is now a real desire to know exactly what you are buying,” she said.

“Although there is still a degree of price sensitivity, there is also a greater focus on wanting to know what you get for the money you spend. With increased choice, as many brands are now imported, Chinese consumers are keener than ever to make an informed decision.”

The report, named ‘From Transparency to Full Disclosure’, surveyed 3000 adults across the UK, USA, and China and looks at what consumers think about honesty, transparency and ethics of brands today.