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To Keep Customers Loyal Trust That They Can Handle the Truth You can't count on lifetime fans unless you've seeded your brand image with transparency. Create the kind of open dialogue with customers that fosters loyalty for the long haul.

By Jeffrey D. Epstein Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Westend61 | Getty Images

The presence of a worm taints even the most popular type of apple -- including the corporate kind.

Is it any wonder, then, that iPhone loyalists felt betrayed when Apple confirmed customer suspicions that it had been deliberately slowing down the performance of its older models? Although Apple claimed it wanted to preserve battery power and avoid sudden operational shutdowns, consumers weren't buying it; to them, the lack of transparency seemed disingenuous.

Had Apple simply been honest with its users from the get-go, the organization wouldn't have faced such suspicion and found itself compelled to issue an apology for not having been clearer. Sure enough, iPhone sales dropped in the first quarter of 2018. Customers' reactions were proof that transparency -- and the customer loyalty it engenders -- can never be taken for granted. Anything less can turn even the most loyal customer from an advocate to an adversary.

Related: Let's Be Real: Why Transparency in Business Should Be the Norm

Yes, consumers can handle the truth.

"You can't handle the truth!" might have turned into one of the most overused memes from filmdom, but it seems to be the sentiment among many brands. Though they all hope to attract and retain customers, they forget that sincerity is a direct path to loyalty.

A 2016 Label Insights survey revealed that 94 percent of customers remain loyal to completely transparent brands; 73 percent of respondents said they'd pay more for products if the company were always truthful with customers.

Honesty really is the best policy when trying to retain customer loyalty through bad times and good. Practice the following principles, and you'll elicit more cheers than jeers from customers.

1. Understand thy customer.

When Amazon founder Jeff Bezos was asked about his decision to enable user reviews, he explained, "We don't make money when we sell things. We make money when we help customers make purchase decisions." In other words, he knew that unless he got in the heads of consumers, he couldn't deliver exceptional experiences.

Trust takes a lifetime to earn and can be lost in a minute. Consequently, you can't make assumptions about customers because you're bound to miss key elements of their needs. Rather than giving mere lip service to the idea of partnering with your customer, dig in deep like Amazon.

Read negative and positive reviews of your brand, and get on the ground with your sales teams. Sideline your subjectivity, and open your eyes to the customer perspective. The insights you gain will help you keep customers' best interests as a top priority and show customers that your brand is actively -- and honestly -- working toward maintaining their business.

Related: Take a Tip from Bezos: Customers Always Need a Seat at the Table

2. Never close the feedback loop.

You need feedback; otherwise, how will you learn from the mistakes you'll inevitably make? The more feedback you glean, the faster you can do a course correction and beat the competition. Plus, customers value having a voice in an age when their concerns can sometimes get lost amid internet chatter.

Not sure how to initiate a steady cycle of feedback? Twitter may have the answer. The app's customer feedback tool allows certain companies to start a dialogue with individual tweeters, asking them to engage in surveys and other satisfaction-measuring devices. The rich data culled from the results can give a stream of consistent, immediate feedback that can then be turned into a seamless part of any brand's customer service process.

Twitter's feedback tool allows brands to get on their customers' levels and gain the insights necessary to keep them loyal. Seek feedback early, then continue collecting and using it to openly modify your brand's appeal, which will help you make genuine progress toward customer retention.

Related: Drive a Feedback Loop: Employees Will Benefit, So Will Your Customers

3. Drill to the core.

Are you listening to the people who make up your key demographics? Don't immediately say "yes." The way you ask for information impacts the quality and accuracy of the feedback.

When Disney wants to know about its target personas, for example, it institutes focus groups of preteens, toddlers and elementary-aged students. Not only do Disney executives and marketers study the way the kids react to their products, but they also solicit opinions from even the youngest focus group members. Each experience allows them to get more personalized with their products and delivery mechanisms.

Related: Don't Ask For Money Until You Assemble a Focus Group

Often, brands aren't being as creative as they might, which leads to getting only half the story. As big as Disney is with its movie franchises, theme parks and collectibles, it's still willing to ask what makes some of its key audience members tick. Consider initiating small sessions with narrowed-down focus group demographics, and reward your users for their time and effort, as Disney did when it doled out participation stickers to its tiny focus group members. And don't forget to implement the feedback you've receive. These strategies show customers you value their time and patronage, which makes them more inclined to keep buying from you.

Ideally, your relationship with customers should satisfy both your needs: You'll have the loyalty you want, and they'll get the solutions they deserve. Cultivate that two-way street by planting roots in a soil based on collaboration, mutual respect and transparency. Then, sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labor.

Jeffrey D. Epstein

Founder and CEO of Ambassador

Jeff Epstein is the founder and CEO of Ambassador, a SaaS referral marketing platform that helps B2B and B2C businesses drive revenue. Ambassador powers referral marketing for over 350 brands, including SAP, Zenefits, SunPower and Sage.

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