What Is the Customer Loyalty Ladder?

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Flori Needle
Flori Needle


Most consumers give themselves some time to decide whether they actually like a product they’ve just purchased. If they do, they’ll probably consider buying other products from your business because they trust the quality, right?

customer service representative speaking to a customer

While you can hope that customers will immediately become loyal to your business, the reality is you need to create a customer experience and products that inspire repeat purchases. You need to nurture customers and guide them to becoming loyal advocates. This nurturing process is sometimes referred to as a customer loyalty ladder, as customers pass through different stages before becoming proponents of your business.

In this post, we’ll outline the basics of the customer loyalty ladder, describe the customers you’ll find at each step, and explain how to nurture them to reach the final stage.

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Each level of the ladder describes the behaviors that customers within them take. Leads that love you move further up the ladder with nurturing and encouragement, while others may fall off and seek other options or simply stay in one place.

The goal is to turn all leads into advocates, so let’s discuss the four distinct steps and how you can entice customers to move up the ladder.

Customer Loyalty Ladder Rungs

Below we'll identify the consumers present at each step of the ladder and how you can encourage them to ascend to the top.

First Rung: Leads

Consumers at the bottom of the ladder are leads. Leads begin as suspects that may fit the ideal customer profile but may not know anything about your business and have had no previous contact with you or any of your marketing material.

After a first exposure, these suspects become prospects. They know a bit about your business, and you learn that they fit the ideal customer profile. They may have interacted with your marketing material by clicking on a link in a tweet or visited your storefront for the first time.

Leads are curious and intrigued by your business, but they’re also weighing options from other competitors. To inspire them to move up the ladder and become customers, you can nurture them with inbound marketing.

If you’ve successfully enticed them to make a purchase, they’ll move up to the next rung of the ladder.

Second Rung: Customers

Customers are your first-time buyers. They’ve purchased your product or service and have begun to form opinions about it. They haven’t yet ruled out your competitors but also aren’t immediately ready to drop you for them. To encourage these customers to move along the loyalty ladder, consider the following practices:

  • Create an onboarding program that teaches customers how to use your products. They’re learning from a trained professional on how to obtain maximum value from what they’ve just bought.
  • Create marketing content that meets them at their stage in the buyer’s journey, and incorporate remarketing practices.  
  • Continuously provide exceptional customer service.  

Overall, the goal is to give them a customer experience that shows they’ve made the right choice in doing business with you. Once you’ve proven this, they’ll move on to become clients.

Third Rung: Clients

After significant nurturing and satisfaction, customers become clients. They’re no longer interested in competitors and will make repeat purchases because already they know you delight them.

However, just because they’ve displayed loyalty, they shouldn’t be ignored because clients can regress to customers or fall off the rung entirely if you’re not holding up your end of the bargain. You should continue to fulfill your brand promise, and communicate with clients through relationship marketing.

If these clients start losing interest in your business, show them that you’re not giving up on them and continue to provide the experience that led them to become clients in the first place. Solicit customer feedback, and understand buyer behavior to create personalized experiences.

After consistent experiences, these clients will reach the final rung of the customer loyalty ladder: advocates.

Fourth Rung: Advocates

Advocates, sometimes called brand evangelists, are extremely loyal customers. They’re unlikely to fall back down the ladder, and they love what you have to offer. They make repeat purchases and your competitors are no longer on their radar. Nevertheless, it’s still important to provide them with the experiences they’ve come to expect, especially since they drive significant revenue and are free marketers for your business.

The principle of advocacy marketing states that businesses that provide consistent customer service, experiences, and valuable products, will create advocates that can’t help but share their experiences with others. Whether it’s friends and family or strangers online, these consumers will share their experiences with others — free marketing.

The conversations that advocates have with others are very beneficial to your business, especially considering that approximately 95% of consumers would recommend a business to others after one single positive experience. That’s a lot of referrals if loyal customers are speaking to multiple people after every satisfying experience they have.

And, in a world where brand trust is increasingly important, 39% of consumers build trust in a brand from peer-to-peer conversations and view other consumers as 14% more credible than brand employees.

In sum, continuously cater to the experiences of your advocates through loyalty programs, exclusive invites to special events, and exceptional customer service experiences. Not only will they drive revenue through repeat purchases, but they’ll take over one of the hardest jobs for a business — customer acquisition.

Create Experiences That Lead Customers To Become Advocates

Whether you sell B2B, B2C, or a combination of the two, you create products because you know you can provide value to those who purchase them. When purchases are made, aim to go above and beyond and show customers you value them just as much as they value your products.

In time you’ll likely end up with a customer base that travels up the customer loyalty ladder to become your most profitable brand supporters.

To learn more about customer experience, check out these customer experience trends.

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