Customer Experience News & Trends

The 5 levels of customer commitment — and what really drives loyalty

Customer commitment could be compared to beauty — only skin deep. Fortunately, you can build a stronger relationship and loyalty from there.

Customers can become committed to products, services and companies on five different levels, according to new research from Rice University.

A new scale

Here’s how those commitment levels break down on a five-tier scale:

  • Affective commitment is formed when a customer has positive feelings toward a product or service provider. For instance, a customer has many pleasant dining experiences at a local restaurant.
  • Normative commitment forms when customers believe a company shares their same beliefs and values. For example, a customer wants fast delivery and a company promises and follows through on it.
  • Economic commitment is based on a customer’s perceived investments in a company. For instance, the customer stays committed because he values the rewards points in a loyalty plan.
  • Forced commitment happens when customers don’t recognize an alternative to sticking with a company. For instance, customers sometimes are only able to use one utility provider.
  • Habitual commitment is based on repetitive and automatic behaviors. For instance, a customer keeps buying from a company because that’s what he’s always done — not because the product or service is superior or the best deal.

Single most important factor

While every level of commitment manages to keep customers loyal to an extent, affective commitment is the Holy Grail, researchers found. Customers’ satisfaction with the performance of a product or service is the single largest contributor to loyalty. And affective commitment has the largest positive impact on satisfaction and loyalty.

To build more loyalty through affective commitment, you might want to try to get more feedback on ease-of-use for your products and services that support them. For instance, ask customers to be part of a focus group and watch them use your products — or ask sales or technicians who visit customers in their environment to watch for ease-of-use glitches.

Also, regularly ask customers to rate your website’s usefulness. That’s almost always their first and most recent impression of your company.

The negative factor

On the flip side, forced commitment has a huge negative impact on loyalty. It’s almost natural for people to reject what they’re forced to do. So when customers don’t have alternatives, they grow resentful toward the product, service and provider, leaving them almost always in search of something else.

You can build loyalty through forced commitment by showing customers alternatives if they do exist. For instance, when a utility’s deregulated, most have to let customers know about new alternatives. Still, most customers stay with their original providers. Showing customers what’s out there, and highlighting why you’re better, can actually improve loyalty.

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