Why loyalty and trust are not the same thing
What I've learned from my research about trust and loyalty
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I was teaching recently, and a leader of a large brand asked me a great question: “Can you have loyalty without trust?”
My first instinct was, “No, of course not! Trust leads to loyalty.” But then I started to wonder, in today’s world, are trust and loyalty been driven closer together or further apart? That’s why this week we’re rethinking customer loyalty – what it is, and is it more valuable than trust?
More on the topic of loyalty below, after a Rethink Recap from last week:
I’ve been thinking about Threads in relation to trust. (Yet to join, and I don’t think I will). If you don’t trust Meta/Facebook, then why would you join Threads? Curious to know what your experience has been.
If you suffer from imposter syndrome, I’d recommend reading last week’s Rethink newsletter: Why feeling like a fraud can be a good thing
My favourite comment last week came in the form of a recommendation from Rethinker, who pointed me toward the book Loving Your Doubt by Adrian Ashton. What a great title! And thanks, Graham.
I’m going to follow up this newsletter on customer loyalty with another employee loyalty. If you have questions, you’d like answered please leave them in the comments to this newsletter.
Let me ask you a question: how many brands are you truly loyal to?
Mmm. I can think of a handful and most of them are local, smaller suppliers – Mayfield Eggs, Daunt Books, and my local wine shop run by two lovely blokes. I’m loyal to authors and even some writers on Substack in that I religiously read whatever they publish (I’m not just saying that!). I’m deeply loyal to my close friends, family, and the people I work with - but that’s a bit different.
On the flip side: I’m not loyal to any one brand of a supermarket – I shop from two or three based purely on price convenience. My loyalty to news and content is somewhat polygamous! My relationship with my banks is lock-in, not loyalty. I’m not loyal to airlines anymore after one truly stuffed me on points. On reflection, there is not one loyalty program I belong to that impacts my customer loyalty.
I’m guessing you’ve probably ordered something from Amazon before. Most of us have. But are you loyal to them? Amazon focuses on earning trust around price and convenience. You order something on Amazon, and you trust that it will arrive the next day. Your trust is highly contextual. For example, I don’t trust the way they treat their employees. But they don’t have my loyalty. When a competitor arrives and offers an equally good service in a category, I switch very quickly.
What does customer loyalty really involve?
Loyalty is an action – you repeatedly buy or interact with that brand.
Plus, a feeling – you have an emotional connection.
You reject competition and don’t consider alternatives.
You stick around, especially when it’s not easy.
You buy the company’s products and tell others about them.
You feel some kind of emotional connection because of the way you’re treated.
You are honest. You care enough to give your feedback, even it’s not positive. *
*Note: I think this is the highest form of loyalty, and it requires deep trust.
The Latin word for loyalty, faithful, and trust is the same – Fides. Interesting, because customer trust doesn’t necessarily go hand in hand with loyalty (nor satisfaction or advocacy.)
You can believe in what the company stands for and not buy anything from them.
You can be satisfied with a one-off experience but never come back.
You can even trust a brand to do something very specific but have zero loyalty to them.
American gangster Al Capone’s famous mantra was “don’t mistake my kindness for weakness.” The same can be said for loyalty and trust. You may think you have loyal customers and employers when they merely trust your brand to do one thing. You can also trust a company but don’t expect them to be loyal to you.
So, I will go as far as saying trust does not = loyalty (and vice versa.)
Ouch, very hard for me to admit.
A VERY big caveat on this topic
Admittedly, when I go back and think about brands and people I’m loyal to, I do trust them. And they have earnt my loyalty in very similar ways to trust:
It’s the little things: small, consistent touches that show they care over time.
It’s relational: they prioritise authentic connections over transactional ones.
It’s personal: the relationships are based on 1-to-1 interactions.
It’s dependable: I can rely on how they show up or what they deliver.
A final thought:
Loyalty AND trust are the ultimate combo.
A short story to illustrate this point: I have a lovely man called Bob who helps me with little jobs. I’ve known him for five years. I trust him with my house keys. I trust him to look after my dog. But he is also fiercely loyal. He’ll come and water my veggie garden if I'm away, just to keep it alive, even when I don’t ask him. If someone says something rude about me, he’ll defend me to the hilt.
It got me thinking about a beautiful summary of the difference and connection between loyalty and trust I read:
“Trust is the reliance on someone that s/he 'can' do it.
Loyalty defines the firm belief that they must do it.”
A question for you: do you think consumer loyalty in BIG brands is dead? And does scale impact loyalty?
I hope this newsletter got you thinking a bit differently about loyalty and trust. You might completely disagree with me; if so please let me know!
Digging into the data
I’ve pulled together a summary of interesting stats and studies I’ve reviewed on customer trust and loyalty. This part is for paying subscribers.
A customer experience agency found loyal customers are 5x as likely to repurchase, 5x as likely to forgive, 4x as likely to refer, and 7x as likely to try a new offering. Wow, especially on the forgiveness point.
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