By Jeff Stern

There is such a thing as fierce customer loyalty. Even in our culture of choice and options. I know, because I am a loyal customer. So are my clients.

So are most people I know who finally, finally find that rare company who understands and delivers excellence in product quality and customer service, going beyond the norm to serve, satisfy and keep their customers long after the money changes hands.



I’ve been a member of the CAA – Manitoba Motor League since 1977. That’s 42 years, which makes me feel old to say.

Back in June, my wife Cheryl and I decided we wanted to go to Grand Forks for the day, so we checked into the travel insurance offers through CAA. I zipped over to their office.

I met with a woman there, explaining our needs for insurance coverage. We just wanted coverage enough for the day, not an annual plan as we typically purchase.

During the conversation, I asked clarifying questions, particularly due to a previous experience, wanting to know, “If you are in the midst of a need for medical care, do I call CAA directly or Blue Cross or whoever the insurer is, or do I go through a call centre?”

She didn’t seem responsive, giving me canned replies like she was reading them from a manual. She was not willing to answer my question, so I tried asking in different ways.

“With some insurance companies, if I’d have need of medical help, I’d just call a number and that’s it. The medical care can be taken care of. Other companies give you a number to a call centre, which may or may not have access to the insurance company directly, and it can be a big extra hassle in the middle of a medical emergency. How does it work with your company?”

She looked like she wished she was somewhere else. Her answers were getting shorter and her voice more strained. She seemed annoyed, maybe with me, maybe with her inability to answer the questions.

At one point she pulled out a booklet, going over and highlighting and underlining parts, but she never answered my question. Maybe it’s something she had to do, but she spent more time giving me the procedural run down about subsection 2B than answering my question. I was kind of taken aback at her approach to customer service.

I left, unsure which satisfied me less; the canned answers to my important-to-me questions, or the way the clerk seemed annoyed by having to serve a customer.

Afterwards, a survey was emailed to me. I took the opportunity to give them polite criticism, because nothing gets fixed that isn’t known to be broken.

The apologetic phone call that followed the survey results didn’t help much. Sure, they followed up, which is good protocol, but the person who phoned was as attentive as the annoyed clerk with the underlined brochure. I pointed out that not only have I been a continual member for over four decades, but that for the past 14 years the dealer for my vehicle has given me an annual auto emergency plan akin to CAA for free and after this experience I’m rethinking renewing for year 43 this December. In response, I was offered a different membership with benefits that could complement the dealer plan. I sure got the warm and fuzzy feeling that I was being heard and I was a valuable member. NOT!

“Thanks, but you’re not addressing the initial issue. You are just trying to keep me a member and I’m not happy with the way I was treated and other than your phone apology as a member of 42 years, I expect more member assistance and rectification.”

“Well, I’m trying to save you money.”

“Yeah, but that’s not the problem and it is evident you as well are not hearing me. I pay my annual fees and don’t think about it. Price isn’t the issue. I want the member service, which I am not seeing.”

We ended the call without my knowing anything more about their insurance provisions, which is key to me. I’m now looking for a different source.  It has been almost a week since that call and they still haven’t gotten back to me.

If the state of service – even for loyal customers – is one of annoyed, reluctant obligation, I foresee a consumer revolt in the future.

The fact is, customers do want to be loyal, but they have a choice who they give their patronage. As a business professionals, this should implore us to compete for loyalty and motivate us to treat it well, not treat it like some once-won trophy that can now gather dust on a shelf. We should not return disdain for loyalty.

If we are fortunate enough to be rewarded with a customer’s loyalty, we should prize it like a trophy, but one that’s shined regularly, displayed with pride and regarded highly – like one we know we must keep winning every year.

As disheartening as issues such as this are, they cause me to look deeper into my service model and see where I can improve. When a customer takes the time to say what is on their mind, the company should take the time to listen, digest and look for a way to correct it. This is how a disgruntled customer can become a raving fan or abandon you. In short, invite the opportunity to make it right.

Jeff Stern, a 27-year real estate veteran with Re/Max Performance Realty in Winnipeg, received the 2017 CMHC/MREA Distinguished Realtor Award. He is an instructor for the Provincial Real Estate Licensing program, a member of the Education Committee and sits on the Professional Standards Investigation and Hearing Committee at MREA. He gives back to the community as chair of the MREA Shelter Foundation and writes stimulating and enlightening articles on his blog. The opinions expressed are those of Jeff Stern and not the Manitoba Real Estate Association.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Interesting article. Maybe because we are older (I’m 68 and counting with 28 years in the industry) it’s easier to see todays “need for speed”. All too often I see an unwillingness to take the time to “get it right” as opposed to assembly line service. We have had the same insurance agent (house and car) for over 30 years, go to the same coffee shop since the owner took over (about 15 years+), see the same mechanic for a long time, and on and on. The priority should be on service. The income looks after itself. Anecdote: just recently had a client call after they purchased the home they are still in 20 years ago to ask me to look after a loved ones home who recently passed. The feel good is priceless.

    • Bill, we are one in the same. I am 59 and counting and going on 28 years in the business and remember when business could be done with a handshake, when you went to a store and the staff knew their product line and was helpful and if not sure of the answer would seek out the info and get back to you. I had the same insurance broker fo 32 years until they sold to a large company and now I had no agent directly handling my renewals so moved to a small family owned one with a broker youngest than me so I should be good he next 32 years. It seems alot of us of the boomer + generation are the last of the consumers that experienced employee pride and employer care which is rare today. I too have clients still in the home I sold them at the start of my career and am now referred to their kids and in some cases even their grandkids. Loyalty may be a fading thing but sounds like people like us will continue to listen, help and deliver and go out kicking,

  2. I couldn’t agree more and I also have chosen the same path as you..I will no longer reward bad behaviour and I have actually been quite happy to pay more if I am feeling like I am being treated as a human being than a financial income. The same rules I apply to my client base and one thing I know for sure is the best way to make a person feel good is to listen, spend the necessary time required, and to treat the client with respect and patience. My older client base definitely like the more belly to belly approach than the younger ones who seem quite content with less belly to belly and prefer doc-u-sign. I do not think either way is right or wrong ..most important is what the client is most comfortable with.

    • Thank you Annette. I spent many years as a Director of the Better Business Bureau and found that many times, a negative customer experience could be rectified by simply doing as I stated above. If a company cares enough about their customer who is their lifeblood, this should be second nature but we live in a very detached society of electronic communication and E-Commerce tthus the landscape has been changing. I first noticed it start in the 1970’s when the energy crisis was upon us and businesses were tightening their belts and the first to go were the front line personnel who were the very one in direct contact with the consumer. I called it Woolco Syndrome for those of us old enough to remember the department store. They had at least 2 staff persons per department, until the tightening of the economy when it went to 1 per 2 departments but they hired shrinkage staff to play shopper and catch shoplifters. I thought it was insane then and since that early start it seems most consumers (excluding people such as myself) take the punch whereas I have eliminated sharing my hard earned disposable income with those businesses that trted me like a stock item not an investment they wish to see grow. Fortunately the consumables I seek are available at many other companies both online and bricks and morter. Companies like Amazon and Costco whom I have written about in my blogs are customer centric. Thanks for reading my article and commenting.

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