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Brain Researcher: You Don't Even Know What True Customer Loyalty Is

Author James Kane offered solution providers at XChange 2016 a crash course in building trust and loyalty with customers.

In the channel universe where relationships are everything, many solution providers still need a better understanding of how to inspire true loyalty, researcher and author James Kane said during the kickoff keynote at the XChange 2016 conference.

Kane, author of ’The Loyalty Switch,’ told the crowd in San Antonio that despite the fact that they work in the field of IT, it’s not really technology that's determining the course of the industry. XChange 2016 is hosted by CRN parent The Channel Company.

"I’m going to remind you that human beings drive a lot of these decisions," he said, adding that the "ability to build strong relationships [will] matter more than anything else."

[Related: XChange 2016 Coverage]

Many businesspeople mistake their relationship with customers as one of loyalty, when actually their customers feel no such bond, Kane said.

"Just because you satisfy them does not mean they're loyal," he said.

Instead, many customers are simply predisposed to remain as customers for as long as nothing changes for the worse -- and in the event that something does change, they'll be gone, Kane said.

Achieving true loyalty—in which customers stay even when circumstances change—requires building deeper trust, he said.

And, as it turns out, it can be helpful to delve back into the evolutionary history of the human brain to understand why humans need to feel trust in order to be loyal, Kane said.

"As far as the mind is concerned, you are still a 90-pound weakling living in the Savannah Plain. That's never evolved out," he said.

To inspire true loyalty, then, requires that solution providers make their customers feel safer, while also making their lives easier and better, Kane said.

"Answer all three of these [needs], and [customers] will be loyal to you," he said.

It's easier said than done, though, because creating this sort of trusting relationship means understanding how each of your customers actually defines trust, Kane said.

Customers don't feel trust just because you deliver on your promises --that's what they expect from the get-go, he said.

"Trust is not what you define it to be. Trust is what everyone else defines it to be," Kane said. "The only way to ever build trust with someone is first understanding what their standards are."

That means having frank conversations with customers to figure out how their standards—for competency and consistency, for instance—might differ from your own, he said.

Also critical in building loyalty—and also often overlooked—is to show customers how you are similar and connected to them, Kane said.

That, too, is related to how the human brain evolved -- in this case, to place a high value on belonging with other people, he said.

"Show them that you are more similar to them than they thought," Kane said. "You can build those kind of connections by showing more of yourself."

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