Is customer loyalty dead?

Has Amazon obsoleted customer loyalty? (No, this is not an anti-Amazon article. Heck, I’m writing this on a laptop from Amazon.) The computer works great and it meets/exceeds my expectations, but then I realized I don’t remember which Amazon vendor I purchased it from.

They are a great supplier, but will I return to them for my next laptop? Or will I search again and go with someone I have never worked with before?

That brings up the question:

Do customers still have loyalty towards a supplier that provides: excellent customer service, good follow up and low cost?

Or have we become a ‘click it then forget it’ society?

Consumer goods vs. Business to Business products:

I can understand ‘click it and forget it’ for commodity products such as T-shirts or cell phone holders. But what about companies that supply and support unique, non-commodity, technical products such as LCDs, CNC machines and hydraulic hoses (where service and support is a key feature)? Products that meet specific customer requirements. In other words, something you will never find at a Walmart.

Are these suppliers losing their customer’s loyalty?

I believe so.

Why did you forget me?

I did some research, which for an engineer is outside of our comfort zone. The market research consisted of drinking coffee while calling our customer’s engineer. I called previous customers and asked if they had any new projects. One replied, “We did a few weeks ago, but we have already chosen a supplier.”

So I asked, did we do something wrong as a supplier?

“No, you guys did great, I just didn’t think about calling you.” –Design Engineer

So, why didn’t they come back to us? Why did they choose a supplier they had never worked with instead of returning to us?

The problem (and I think other OEM suppliers have the same problem) is that design engineers go with who they spoke with last and if they don’t have a name handy, they go to Google and find a new supplier they have never worked with.

It’s easier to find a new supplier than to look up contact info of their current/past supplier.

After all, companies would go overboard on service, quality and low-cost to earn future business. But now thanks to Amazon (for making it too easy to buy) and Google (for making it too easy to find a supplier), we have become a ‘click and then forget’ society.

The solution?

How to be in front of the engineer when the design starts? That is the $100-Million-dollar question.

I don’t know the answer, but am open to hear what others think.

I do know that as an engineer, I don’t like phone calls or emails from our current supplier asking if I have a new design in the works. In fact, this works against them. People have more and more to do with less time. Even face to face visits are discouraged. In the past, if you took the time to jump on a plane and visit a customer, they remembered you when the design came up.

Now most people don’t want to meet unless something is critical.

So, I ask you. How do you build loyalty with engineers?

And the even harder question:

How do you build loyalty with the new generation of engineers coming out of college that avoids face to face contact?

Any suggestions?