Is Loyalty for Sale?

Loyalty for Sale

“You know you’re paying too much!” my brother-in-law smirked at me, as I paid for the two suits I had just ordered. We had spent the last 45 minutes going through bolt after bolt of fabric at my tailor’s in New Delhi, India and had finally selected two weaves to be cut into a pair of three-piece suits.

Now, I have lived in Dubai for over half my life – and while I am not big on material trappings, I do like to dress sharp; especially for work. Besides, as someone who worked in Branding for over a decade – I am of the opinion that ‘packaging’ yourself to stand apart is a key aspect of how you position yourself… but that’s for another story.

So, every visit to India means a visit to my tailor, who happens to be the same tailor who cut my first ever suit jacket when I was a young lad of 15. Furkaan was an assistant cutter, back then and despite living in three different countries, having gained and shed several pounds (and all my hair), over the last three decades, he remains my go-to person for a custom, tailored suit. Admittedly, I have strayed a few times and, disappointed with each experience, find myself returning to him with a renewed sense of loyalty.

So if I’m so loyal and Furkaan such an amazing tailor; why did I try other options. Human nature, perhaps… seeking the new and (exciting) unknown. We will come back to this shortly.

Proudly wearing one of Furkaan’s exquisitely tailored suits. Photography courtesy Paula Scherson Photography (

Once I was given the opportunity to have a suit tailored, in Dubai and the experience was so incredibly bad that I swore never to go back. I walked into a beautiful shop and a very polite gentleman went through the motions – showing me various fabrics etc. etc. But the experience went downhill from there. I followed up on the day I was promised a fitting and every second day after and finally three weeks after being measured I was offered a ‘fitting’ – imagine my shock when I arrived at the appointed time, only to be told, “the driver was on his way with my suit”, and almost 50 minutes later, there was still no sign of it and the store manager was shuffling around avoiding eye contact. I left soon after, without having seen the suit. They called me back three days later.

On two other occasions I got carried away and bought off-the-shelf suits on sale… not a great idea when you have a body like mine.

Not only does Furkaan manage to get my fit absolutely spot on, every time; he remembers to send me a WhatsApp message on my birthday, every year… he does the same on Diwali, Christmas and New Years’ Day as well. Furkaan even asks after my children, like a proud ‘uncle’. When the season changes, he sends me swatches of fabric and even images of the latest styles.

I can order a suit via phone or on WhatsApp and Furkaan will cut, tailor and deliver it to my mother’s home, 15 miles (a 90 minute trip, one-way) without asking to be paid. There is an unspoken understanding between us offering me an indefinite credit line.

But this is not why I go back to him over and over, year after year. 

A loyal customer sees the value you being to each and every interaction between yourselves and truly value the relationship you are keen to build with them. 

Coming back to the suits I had just ordered – I had dropped six kilos over the first few months of the year, and therefore asked for my measurements to be taken again, following which Furkaan suggested a fitting, to make sure he got the fit right.

I had two days to leave and as I am sure, many of you will relate had neither the time nor the inclination to be stuck in traffic. I let him know I was happy to proceed without a fitting – but this gentleman takes a lot of pride in his work and wasn’t having any of it.

 The next evening, at 7pm – his assistant came home with a basted version of my jackets, a fist full of pins and a piece of chalk. He spent a half hour with me, making little marks and opening stitches, where they appeared to be tight.

Twenty-four hours later I had my suits, looking beautiful and fitting like a glove.

Given the service I receive, how could I possibly switch tailors? Maybe I do pay a little extra, but all I need is to remind myself about our shared passion for excellence, the history we share and the service he offers – and I know there is no one else’s suits I could ever wear.

So here are my key takeaways from this story, every word of which is true. 

Firstly, and most importantly, a customer who seeks discounts and savings – is not a loyal customer and never will be. He or she will go wherever is cheaper and a price-war is unwinnable. Don’t even try.

Instead, focus on understanding your customer and what creates value for them – often you will find creating value doesn’t cost much and your best customers are those who are not only happy to pay that little extra but more importantly will rave about you to their friends.

A loyal customer sees the value you bring to each and every interaction between yourselves and truly values the relationship you are keen to build with them.

So, ask yourself if you have a similar relationship with your customers? Are you able to codify your passion for your customers and empower your team with the appropriate processes to give customers a superlative experience; more importantly how do you infuse in them (your team) a passion to service a customer above and beyond what is expected and how do you reward them (your team) for their loyalty.

It is never enough to deliver the perfect product – yes I expect the suit to fit perfectly; but anyone with sufficient training can create a great suit and we are fast moving towards the possibility of AI enabled machines being able to do just that: so how do you create a bond with your customers, that keeps them coming back year-after-year, creating a bond that lasts a lifetime?

Loyalty as a human behaviour is predicated on emotion and balanced by rationality, so how do we remove cost from rational decision making and make it about affordability (Can you afford NOT to buy my product or service?); and make the emotional quotient about how your service creates convenience and value to make your customers’ experience feel truly unique and special.

Creating Loyalty – Technology Or Philosophy

Creating Loyalty – Technology Or Philosophy

We are a family of readers. My father, mother and even my kid brother, we are avid, voracious readers. I remember my first book – The Mystery of the Burnt Cottage by Enid Blyton. It was a mystery story set in England and I devoured every word, as it created a moving picture in my mind’s eye. I couldn’t put the book down and lost all sense of time, hating that feeling of it coming to an end.  When I asked if I could have another, I was told to read it back-to-front. My next book was gifted to me two Saturday’s later.

However, this is not a story about my reading habits. It’s a story about loyalty. Many hours of my childhood were spent at a bookstore called Tekson’s in South Delhi, while my mother went about shopping for fabric and other assorted items, I had little time for. What always amazed me about these visits was the way the owner of the shop would spring up and greet my mother by name, followed by instructions to assistants in the store to fetch specific new arrivals that he knew she would like. It made me feel really important, just being there.

A cup of tea would magically appear, made exactly the way my mother loved it and as she leafed through the pages of books being paraded before her, Mr Arora, the owner would tell her about the reviews he was getting from other readers. He would ask after my father and let her know he had new design books for him and when my mother would finally buy herself five to six books, he would knock off 20 percent as a ‘special discount’. I would be led off to the children’s section in the back where I would sit and read comic books, over the next few hours.

As I grew into my teens, I would often go there on my own and Mr. Arora would give me the same treatment – ask after my parents, offer me a cold bottle of pop and throw in a discount if I bought anything. When my father died, he was at the funeral, paying his respects, such was his relationship with our family.

Up until the age of 16, there was only one other bookstore I ever shopped at. Teksons Bookshop was my home away from home.

I sincerely believe, loyalty is a “Human”  conditions and therefore demonstrating loyalty is   about the basic,  know your customer, (genuinely) care of them and put your customer front  and center of your business.

Now here’s the thing – Mr Arora was like that with all his customers and that’s no mean feat. He knew everyone’s names – their family’s names and the kind of books they loved. He even knew how they took their tea. This was a walking-talking, human database and CRM system, before we had even heard these terms. See, there were no cards with Magstripes or chips, no points to be accrued, no tracking of our transactions, no emails with promotional offers and yet we, and thousands of other families shopped there, for years… This shop was responsible for inspiring thousands of children, just like me to read, and enjoy the magic of books.

The point I’m trying to make is, too many people focus on having the ‘right’ technology or a ‘structured’ programme before they embark on the ‘loyalty’ journey. I sincerely believe, loyalty is a ‘human’ condition and therefore demonstrating loyalty is about the basics – know your customer, (genuinely) care for them and put the customer front and centre of your business and you will reap the rewards.  

The Loyalty Paradigm

I have watched Mel Gibon’s Braveheart more times than I care to admit. And I watch it just for William Wallace’s speech as he rallies his troops to go into a battle they cannot win, and as he tells them, “They may take our lives but they’ll never take our freedom!” my heart swells and my eyes fill up… I want to be on that battlefield with him… I want to die for him.


Mel Gibson in Braveheart. Image credit: IMDB


In the Oscar winning Gladiator, Maximus tells his troops: “Three weeks from now, I will be harvesting my crops. Imagine where you will be, and it will be so. Hold the line! Stay with me! If you find yourself alone, riding in green fields with the sun on your face, do not be troubled,  for you are in Elysium, and you’re already dead! Brothers, what we do in life echoes in eternity.”

And who can forget Troy with the irritatingly handsome Brad Pitt, playing Achilles and leading the Myrmidons into battle with the cry “…my brothers of the sword. I’d rather fight alongside you than any army of thousands. Let no man forget how menacing we are. We are lions. You know what’s there waiting beyond that beach? Immortality! Take it. It’s yours!”

What this counter-intuitive sense of loyalty seems to have in common is a leader, risen from amongst them inspiring and challenging them; not to live but to give everything to a glorious and common cause. A narrative that links them all with a common, shared destiny and a glorious immortality that awaits – an immortality that will inspire others with their legendary heroism.

I have read books about war and watched movies depicting these scenarios with great fascination – From Russel Crowe’s Gladiator to Colin Farrel’s Alexander,  and numerous other such cinematic greats, and it never ceases to amaze me that the punter, the pawn, seems to unquestioningly follow these great leaders in to battle and often to their own deaths, bringing glory to “insert name here” over and over, through history.

I have myself led a small team of marketing strategists and creative advertising professionals for almost a decade, and list as my greatest professional failure, the inability to invoke the necessary LOYALTY required to get a team of perhaps 50 persons to work a few extra hours to get a ‘campaign’ to market.

I struggled to motivate them to come in (without an unspoken threat of some kind) on a Saturday, being given all kinds or excuses and reasons why they couldn’t make it.

If you’re laughing at the comparison, I am leveraging the word ‘campaign’ to draw a straight line between the two scenarios. A campaign being a series of operations or activities, designed to achieve a specific goal.

Now imagine for one moment, you are a general, commanding thousands of soldiers… your army has been trekking for months, no.. years following you as you invade new lands, plundering them on behalf of King and Country. With every battle you lose hundreds, maybe even thousands of soldiers to arrows, swords and spears. The treks through tropical forests, burning deserts and over windy, icy mountains take their toll as soldiers get sick and die from exhaustion, pneumonia and malaria.

But you go on.

When its come to professional environments, I do believe that people, colleagues and clients alike, aren’t loyal to company;    their loyalty and resulting commitment is to a person. 

What if a Private started to push back, debated or provided alternate strategies every time the Staff Sergeant gave an order? “But why do we need to cross that hill, sir?” or “Why can’t we just go around the enemy, instead of attacking them” or “But it’s really hot…”

 The chaos and the carnage would be devastating! So, what makes a soldier unquestioningly move in the direction of the threat? How does he (or she) overcome their fear of death? Is it loyalty to their country? Loyalty to the General or Sergeant or even loyalty to their regiment or platoon / squad?

I believe it may be – all of the above. A clear sense of vision. The “Why” that Simon Sinek talks about in his book Start with Why – about having purpose. But not a “Why” with regards to the minutia. It’s clarity of a broader purpose – why am I here and why it’s important, maybe even critical. Having a sense of ownership – “everything I do impacts my brothers and sisters and puts them and their families in danger or helps keep them safe”. And this clarity of purpose and ownership are supported by inherent personality traits such as a sense of honour, duty, integrity and a desire to serve, selflessly.

When it comes to professional environments, I do believe that people, colleagues and clients alike, aren’t loyal to a company; their loyalty and resulting commitment is to a person, more often than not a person they report to or deal with regularly – the one that pushes them to excel and helps show them how to be the best professional version of themselves, possible. This colleague also protects them and has their back, ensuring they are well supported and safe in the decisions they take. But how do you transfer extreme levels of loyalty to a situation that isn’t half as extreme; I mean a team of executives delivering advertising strategy and creativity isn’t exactly the Cosa-Nostra is it?

Is loyalty in the corporate environment dead and gone in the way chivalry disappeared from romantic relationships? Has the equation between employer and employee become nothing more than a mere transaction, as companies strive to serve their shareholders: adding and subtracting employees to balance the annual balance sheet and drive profits and dividends?

What are your thoughts? Would love to spark a conversation…