Originally published in the Boulder Daily Camera and the Longmont Daily Times-Call.

It was my junior year in high school and everything was on the line.

My softball team was playing for the state championship. Only one thing stood in our way. A tough team. A very tough team.

Ellen, an aggressive personality, was on first. The rules banned base stealing and mayhem. So I was passively semi-guarding second base. Ellen wanted to be on second. She had a problem with the rule against base-stealing. She had long-standing personal issues with me. She saw an opportunity to blind-side me. She took it. Ellen bowled me over, trampled me in the dust and stood triumphantly on second.

While the dust was settling and the umpires were sorting things out, I heard someone in the stands yelling at Ellen. It was my mother. Mom didn’t like the way her baby had been run over. Things got very quiet while those who knew Mom struggled to reconcile what they knew her to be with what they were seeing and hearing. Noted for being a nice, pleasant unassuming person, Mom was firing a barrage of invectives at a girl young enough to be her daughter.

What we experienced that day was a staunch display of loyalty.

It went beyond a mom’s inbred loyalty for her first-born. Hers was loyalty for an entire team. It was loyalty for all our team had been through to get to the championship game. It was loyalty for the rules and fair play. Ellen wasn’t playing fair. Mom called her out. The umpires agreed. Goodbye Ellen.

For businesses, such loyalty is priceless.

Building loyalty to the point customers will stand up for you when you have been wronged isn’t easy, but it can be done. It doesn’t happen overnight. It takes years of attention, planning and follow through. Loyalty building goes beyond logos and catchy tag lines. It requires insights, commitment, trust and honesty.

Here are some tips for strengthening ties with customers or clients, ways of engendering loyalty that will be there when you need it:

  • Communicate. Find ways to reach out to your customers/clients regularly. Talk, then listen.
  • Customer Service. Go the extra mile. Encourage your employees to do the same. Customers will remember.
  • Understand Customer/Client Goals. Make your services and products meaningful in the context of the objectives of your customers/clients. See their side of things.
  • Employee Training. Empower employees to make decisions that benefit your customers/clients. An unbending “That’s our policy” stance will lose more than if you have no policy at all. Whenever possible, go with flexibility.
  • Reliability – If you say you will have or do something by Thursday, deliver on time or sooner. If you can’t, contact your client/ customer immediately and explain what happened.
  • People over Technology. The more difficult you make it for your customers/clients to speak to a real person, the more likely it is that they will go elsewhere.
  • Know Them Well. Get to know the names of your regulars or at least recognize them when you see them.

A friendly greeting and words of appreciation go a long way.

Above all, embrace loyalty as a two-way street. The more you do for your customers/clients, the more they will bond with you. Your business will prosper. Your customers/clients will be satisfied. When the chips are down, they’ll stand by you. Ideally, they’ll stand up for you.

As for that long-ago championship game, Ellen sat it out in the dugout.

I ended up with dirt in my ear and a large lump on my forehead, but we took home the trophy. We kicked butt.

Stacy Cornay is the owner of Communication Concepts Public Relations & Advertising. 
Visit www.comm-concepts.com or call 303-651-6612.

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