Is your wallet full of plastic cards that offer "Rewards" or "Miles" in exchange for your patronage? Individual businesses may offer some little perk, like cheaper gasoline or lower prices on select items. That's what loyalty has come to: a strictly dollars-and-cents, bottom-line equation. For businesses it's make the fastest, easiest buck possible. For consumers, it's save every last penny.
The nature of and importance of loyalty is a hot topic in the business press. Several books devoted to gaining and retaining loyalty among customers, employees and friends peel back the layers of some pretty complex ethical and moral issues. But at the heart of them is a fundamental premise: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. While that may sound preachy, it's essentially true, and it plays out pretty vividly in business, where short-term gains have come to overshadow long-term benefits.
Loyalty is a concept that most people apply to spouses, families, country and perhaps a few other institutions: remember "Be true to your school?" In the past, loyalty was a manifestation of patiently built and nurtured relationships and shared experiences and values. It was about people getting to know one another and building up trust in one another. It was about honesty, communication and flexibility. Integrity. Quality.
Our culture and our economy have conspired to undermine these values. Perhaps it was exchanging small town life for big cities. Face time for television time. Snail mail for email. But there's definitely been a change. It can be seen in the way people don't keep the same jobs their entire lives, and may not even keep the same spouse. I just wish people would examine their motivation more closely and see how well a decision to make a change will serve them in the long term.
It would be naive not to recognize that loyalty in our industry is mainly built on providing consistently high-quality service and convenience for both clients and vendors. We agents, planners and coordinators earn loyalty by saving time, money and effort on both sides of this equation. It's misguided to assume we are just dispensable "middlemen." We prove ourselves over and over again by creating and executing efficient, cost-effective, yet magical events on the client side, and secure opportunity on the vendor side. Acting only with the bottom line in mind and not considering the value we add to this equation, is penny-wise, pound-foolish ... and disloyal.
Businesses anchored on the bedrock value of loyalty, along with honesty; communication; flexibility; integrity and quality still offer the best long-term success for both customers and vendors. These are values for people looking past cheap rewards or turning an easy buck.
Our challenge is to demonstrate to customers and vendors that their loyalty is valued and it will be reciprocated.