Many companies believe that they can equate customer loyalty with customer satisfaction. They are under the impression that if customers are satisfied, they will naturally return. However, several studies show otherwise.

Unfortunately, we cannot conclude that just because we have satisfied customers leaving our stores with a smile, they are also loyal. There is a difference between customer satisfaction and customer loyalty. So, let us dive into what customer loyalty really is. If you google ‘What is customer loyalty?’, you will see about 30,000 results on your search. If you start looking closer at the results, you will quickly see that most of them describe customer loyalty as ‘customers’ desire to return to a company’.

But is it that simple?

Is customer loyalty only about getting customers to choose your company when deciding where to spend their monthly salary?

No, of course not.

Because loyalty is not just a physical action – that customers consistently choose the same store, webshop, or company over and over again. Loyalty is more than that. In the report ‘Raising the Bar on Customer Loyalty,’ Harvard University documents that the path to loyal customers goes through exceptional customer experiences, effective digital solutions and making it easy for customers. This means that, for example, an efficient webshop that makes it easy for customers is an important step toward loyalty. But beyond making it easy and having effective digital solutions, the report also shows that exceptional customer experiences make the difference. This is not surprising. When we talk about loyalty, it is the human contact that makes the difference. Therefore, my definition of a loyal customer is this:

Customer loyalty is an emotional relationship between you and the customer, which results in customers choosing you over the competitor.

Therefore, we need to separate things and not only look at how we measure customer loyalty but also how we achieve customer loyalty. The goal of customer loyalty is, of course, to get customers to come back. But the way we do it is through the emotional relationship. Does this mean that the product and price are less important? Yes, when it comes to loyalty. For customer loyalty is not created by what you sell, but by how you sell it. Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson have examined thousands of sales situations in a wide range of industries. Their research has resulted in the book ‘The Challenger Sale.’ Here they establish what factors lead to customer loyalty across industries.


Their research shows that:

9% of customer loyalty is due to price.

19% of customer loyalty is due to products.

53% of customer loyalty is due to customer experiences.


So, their research concludes the same as that from Harvard University. Namely, that it is primarily the relationship with the employees and the customer experiences that create loyalty. Studies related to the book ‘Customer Loyalty – From Customers to Superfans’ show that most employees are good at creating satisfied customers. At the same time, studies show that employees are bad at creating loyal customers because they do not activate the right emotions in the customer meeting. That is, the emotions that lead to loyalty. The consequence, unfortunately, is that we serve our satisfied customers on a silver platter to the competitors – and this includes webshops. So, the time with customers must be used correctly. And the time referred to here is the everyday normal time in the store.


The influence of the sense of smell on customer behavior
Emotional contact can be created in many ways. One of the most effective is sensory marketing. MoodMedia, an expert in sensory marketing, has in a comprehensive study established that 90 percent of retail customers are more likely to return to businesses that positively affect their senses. Here, the sense of smell is the sense that affects customers’ emotions the most. This is because this sense is connected to the brain’s limbic system, which regulates our emotions and memories.

Furthermore, there is a direct connection between our subconscious and the sense of smell, and since 95 percent of our decisions are unconscious, it means that scents can be decisive for whether we buy or not. Therefore, companies like Disney have a signature scent, as studies conclude that continuous use of the same familiar scent ties customers closer to a brand. Starbucks chose to stop serving hot breakfast because this scent overpowered the smell of coffee, which is naturally their signature scent, while 7-Eleven’s signature scent is freshly baked bread.

Intersport has examined how important scents are for their revenue. They surprisingly concluded that in the areas of the stores where scents were actively used, there was a 26 percent increase in sales. There are several advantages to focusing on the scent that customers encounter in your store.

Studies show that when customers experience a pleasant scent, they will:

  • Assess the goods as being more exclusive
  • Spend more time in the store
  • Be willing to pay more for the goods

Research from Rockefeller University has found that if there is a signature scent, customers remember 35 percent more of the experience. Does this mean we can take our favorite aftershave out of the bathroom cabinet and spray the scent in the store or buy a random scent in Netto that we spray over all web orders? Unfortunately, no. Because it must be a scent that most customers find pleasant, and the scent must match the surroundings and atmosphere.

Therefore, it smells like coffee at Starbucks and popcorn in the cinema. It simply won’t work if it smells like lavender in the car workshop and meatballs in curry in the bank. Here, researchers talk about associative learning. That is, customers, through repeated positive scent experiences, associate the scent with a particular product or company.


The role of taste in the customer experience

If we move away from the sense of smell and over to the sense of taste, there is good reason to invest in a barista coffee machine so customers can get a cappuccino or cortado while they shop. There are indeed some benefits to giving customers coffee. Firstly, it is a free gift, and precisely free gifts (even small ones) release dopamine, a chemical in the brain that makes us a bit happier. Furthermore, there are a couple of other benefits to giving customers coffee, as long as it is not decaf.

Researcher Pearl Martin has established in a series of experiments that when you get caffeine, there is a 35 percent greater likelihood that you are more positive towards others’ arguments. Coffee has a positive influence on our relationship with other people. However, it is worth noting that customers are only more receptive if there are good arguments. That is, arguments where customers can say, “I can see that” or “That sounds interesting.”

But a cup of coffee makes your customers more receptive and more positive towards what you say. It requires, however, that it is a good cup of coffee, served in a real cup and not a lukewarm experience in a white plastic cup. You can even take it a step further. For if you serve a small piece of dark chocolate with the coffee, customers also get a cocktail of hormones related to love, pleasure, and emotional relationships.

Dark chocolate activates the feelings in customers that are relationship-building, making them more receptive to what you say. So dark chocolate has the same positive influence on customers’ experience of you, precisely because customers do not consider a free cup of coffee and a piece of dark chocolate as a manipulative sales trick, but as a friendly gesture. Sensory marketing is thus an important tool to give customers a good experience and thereby increase customer loyalty.