Affinity is Different From Love

Affinity is described by Merriam-Webster as 1.) an attraction to or liking for something, and 2.) likeness based on relationship or causal connection.
Customers may like many different companies, but when it comes to affinity, there are few firms that make the grade. So what is it, this word affinity, and how is it different from love?
Affinity is more practical, more rational. Smart marketers seek to create greater customer affinity, resulting in more preference, more loyalty over time that will generate added profits and growth.
Regarding products, companies have two key areas in which they can make a difference that will support affinity: quality and workmanship.
Yes, there are other elements that may be highly persuasive regarding the development of customer affinity. Customers may also be persuaded by brand, popularity, which celebrity is shown with the product, the fact that they saw it in Vibe and other elements. But time after time, quality and workmanship keep customers returning–even if the product under discussion is a mechanical pencil that costs under $5.00.
Quality in the components, quality in the final product. “Quality” products do what they are designed to do and create value. In the case of a Bottega Veneta handbag, quality is cumulative. It’s the use of vegetable dyes and special tanning methodologies that cause the leather to be incredibly soft. In the case of The Wall Street Journal, quality is an organization and a culture that supports great writers and editors who are required to take the time to develop an idea and look at a story deeply. It’s caring enough to make public corrections when there’s a question of ethics. It’s about developing and maintaining a culture of quality.
The ways you can add quality are almost endless–just be sure it’s something your customer wants and values. You can improve the product or the quality of the parts that make up the product. Improving the process used to make the product can also result in improved quality perception on the part of the customer. And, of course, if you shift from making a ring with silver and crystal to platinum and diamonds, the customer will see enhanced quality.
The way things are made makes a difference. The difference between a Ford and an Aston Martin is more than just the materials. What is done to and with the materials demonstrates workmanship. Touching a satiny finished piece of wood that is perfectly fitted imparts that sense. The sound of a car door closing firmly does, too.
Fit and finish is a traditional benchmark of workmanship. If you’re developing software, you know the measurement as an intuitive and consistent UI, with logically-placed functions that aid quick useability. If it’s a shirt, does the pattern on the pocket match that of the fabric it’s sewn onto so that the pocket “disappears” into the shirt? Design is another test of workmanship. Do your products win recognition and press because they’re both beautiful and useful? Apple continuously wins customer affinity with this combination. And while you’re at it, make it special and unique. People are numbed by mass-produced everything today. But finding something that’s customized in the color, size, or fit that you want–that’s worth noting. If you have what it takes, let customers fashion their own customized whatever.
The actual buying experience–making the purchase, post-purchase and perhaps returning the purchase–is critical to customer affinity too.
Buying experience
Do you know what it’s like to buy your product? Is it being sold by a surly teenager, a condescending socialite or a passionate fan? What’s the online experience like at your store or at the stores your channel represents?
A classic example is the Apple retail store versus the shopping experience to be had at Circuit City. One environment is painstakingly planned and controlled for maximum results–with incredible dollars-per-square-foot productivity. The other is designed for a series of do-it-yourself quantity sales–the equivalent to quickly turning tables in a fast food restaurant. Recent staff cuts at Circuit City make the analogy even more apt. The price may be about the same, training of employees similar, yet the Apple experience clearly attracts both employees and customers for whom buying experience esthetics are critical.
By the way, if lots of discounting comes to mind when you think of the name of the company (particularly if it’s a retailer) the buying experience itself is probably discounted. Elegant purchasing experiences are often the result of training and discipline. It may appear that the salesman at Ferragamo just happened to know the right color to go with your Chanel jacket, but don’t believe it. You had a seamless, delightful transaction because there were hours of training and years of experience behind it. At Ferragamo, the quality and workmanship involved in the sales process is equal to that found in the products.
Whether your selling method is analog, digital or both, you must have informed sales associates, a great experiential design, and the ability for customers to get help. Salespeople distribute the product and affirm customer choices. Get the best salespeople you can find and make sure they really love customers. Train them and give them as much knowledge as possible. The store or site design is no longer optional. Make being in the store or on the site fun, exciting, informative and above all enjoyable. When all is said and done, providing easy access to help tells a customer, “You can trust us. There are people here and they want to assist you.” Let customers access help 24/7 in the way they want to–via voice, email, text, IM or whatever method works for them.
The Post-Buying Experience
The purchase is past, but every day when the customer uses that cell phone, they remember you. Even if only on a subliminal basis. This aspect of purchasing is just as important as everything that leads up to the swipe of your credit card.
Consumers really want the opportunity to come back and do an exchange or return if the color of the blouse they selected clashes with their boyfriend’s favorite magenta Tiki patterned Hawaiian shirt. It’s critical that the customer not be made to feel like a second class citizen just because they need to have their purchase adjusted instead of purchasing anew. I think sometimes we have the experience, after buying something that didn’t work, of being a bad, bad customer for not understanding the companies procedures and processes.
Remember, customers have already made a commitment to you by making a purchase. Fail them when they need you to make it right and you’ve lost a customer–and twenty more when they tell their family, friends and the immediate world via their blog. As the old Texas saying goes, “You got to dance with them what brung you.” Show some loyalty to the customers who brought you to this point in your company’s evolution–they’re the cause of your prosperity.
Even in the best of situations, customers may need to return something that wasn’t quite right, want service or an upgrade, or want to know that they still matter to you. Get your staff to be nice when a return comes in. The customer will probably purchase from you again and tell their family and friends how great you were. Be there big time when they need service or an upgrade–and be sure you ramp up your back office team to meet the challenge of an upgrade. Find ways to touch the customer and tell them how much you value their purchases with you. I promise you they won’t find it corny.
The Next Time
Fight for your next transaction before they leave the site or walk out of the store. Call them by name. Let them know they’re a special customer to you, then back it up with a program that says so right out loud. Details are important–make sure they feel that you’ve valued them. You can set yourself apart from other companies by remembering your customers, figuring out where there are leaks, and planning ahead for end of life issues.
There are many ways to remember customers: birthday clubs, educational funds for children of customers, drawings, sweepstakes, giving away free product and others. Again, make sure it’s what the customer wants, not what you want to give them. Use and manage the information in your customer database. Don’t ignore it–it could be one of the most valuable tools you have to get people to remember you. No one wants two CRT monitors in their closet–yet many of us have them there. Help your customer trade in and recycle. It’s responsible, you’ll be seen as a green company and it means less mess in our landfill.
Every company–small or large–can create customer affinity, keep it, grow it and create loyal users or lose it–faster than a runaway train. Get on the grow side of the equation and watch your customer relationships improve.

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