James Kane has advised the likes of Apple Inc. and Major League Baseball on customer loyalty. He has been quoted in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and numerous other publications.

Why? A behavioral scientist, Kane studies what happens inside of the brain that triggers loyalty, and is able to translate that into strategies to create loyalty in business.

Kane will speak in Des Moines on Sept. 12 at a Business Record luncheon sponsored by Foster Group.

The Business Record spoke with him to get a sneak peak on his advice for creating loyal clients and customers.


1. Trigger Categories

Three triggers influence loyalty, Kane said: a sense of trust, a sense of belonging and a sense of purpose. The trap that businesses fall into is thinking that they just need to earn customers’ trust, when in fact trust is obtained by doing the things that people expect you to do anyway, such as fulfilling basic expectations. To build loyalty: One, help customers develop a sense of belonging by showing that a business empathizes with the worries that make customers lose sleep at night. Two, show them a sense of purpose – “We stand for something beyond just the exchange of money for services,” he said.


2. Employee Loyalty

To gain loyal customers, build an internal culture of loyalty. Employees who trust their company, feel that they belong and believe in what the company stands for will reflect that message to clients. Kane compares it to raising children. You try to teach them values so they’ll be OK when they are on their own. That way, “every single person in the organization knows how to interact with the people they are going to interact with,” Kane said. “If you do that internally, then it becomes second nature.”


3. Selfless vs. Selfish

One of the biggest mistakes businesses make, Kane said, is thinking that customer loyalty is a selfless behavior, when in fact it is selfish. Customers aren’t just going to choose to be blindly loyal. “If I am loyal to you, it’s because you satisfy those three things that can ultimately make my life better: I trust you, you make my life easier, and you make my life more meaningful,” he said. The burden isn’t on the customer to be loyal; it’s on the business to make that customer loyal. That might sound obvious, but most organizations are too focused on themselves and what they can get out of the customer, and they tend not to give back.


4. Where to start

A good place to start is by understanding that you might not be inherently good at relationships of any kind. There are no classes in school that teach you how to be good at relationships. “We learn from our parents, initially, but if they suck at it, so do we,” Kane said. Maybe your company needs to invest in training. And then, test your methods in smaller ways. Take a small group of employees and have them try to engage a small group of customers or clients, see if it works, and then expand on it, he said. 


5. Companies that get it

Patagonia Inc., an outdoor clothing supplier, realizes that its customers care about the environment and outdoor activities. So the company invests in making itself a lifestyle company. A small example is that Patagonia will post instructional videos on its website for people who want to learn how to rock climb or do some other outdoor activity. It also gives 1 percent of its sales to the preservation of the environment.

Union Square Hospitality Group, which runs a family of restaurants in New York, has its servers take notes on what a customer talked about and what they ordered, and saves that information to use when a customer makes reservations in the future. The restaurants then use that information to start conversations the next time a customer comes in, even if it is 
six months or a year later.

Lathrop & Gage, a law firm based in Kansas City, Mo., had Kane come in to talk with its business clients and picked up the cost. That showed a level of care toward clients, Kane said. The firm recognized a topic that would help its clients and went above and beyond to give clients an opportunity to learn.