James Kane captivated the audience at this year’s Argentum Conference when discussing how you can make anyone loyal to you.

By Pam McDonald

James Kane, a psychologist, has a deep understanding of what motivates people, particularly when it comes to loyalty. He captivated the audience at this year’s Argentum Conference when discussing how you can make anyone loyal to you, your organization, or your cause.

By synthesizing the latest research in neurology, anthropology, behavioral psychology, and 100,000 years of human evolution, James described what it means to be loyal, how and why it exists, and what organizations and individuals need to do to gain it.

He noted that it takes a lot of energy for our brain to function so it is always looking for patterns it understands as well as short cuts, especially those that help it identify whom it can trust, whom it can’t trust, and what to do about it.

4 Levels of Human Relationships

James said that human relationships could basically be categorized into four levels.

  • The least important fourth level includes people, companies, and situations we just don’t like. These are also the experiences we tell others about and the basis for the marketing adage: we’ll tell twice as many people about bad experiences as good.

  • The third level contains transactional relationships. We pay for a product or service, expect it to live up to its promises, and we’re done. While the provider of the service or product might want us to feel and show loyalty, we don’t necessarily. We got what we expected and we’re on to other things.

  • At the second level, we are predisposed to favor someone or something; it is a hardwired, conditioned, or learned bias or preference because of what we’ve heard, read, or seen that persuaded us to choose it.

  • The most important relationships are to people, things, and experiences we love, choose, and to which we are loyal – including our spouses, children, families, sports team, employers, etc.

Satisfaction Vs. Loyalty

Loyalty is not an emotion; it’s real human behavior. James said, “Reward programs and surveys measure satisfaction. Satisfaction is about the past; loyalty is about the future.

“Here’s the way I distinguish them: dogs are loyal; cats can be satisfied. Loyalty does not mean subservience and it’s not about a brand. No one is loyal to a brand. We can only be loyal to someone who can do something for us,” he said.

Where Our Loyalty Comes From

It turns out that human beings, despite being highly vulnerable, 90-pound weaklings, dominate the planet. This is true primarily because of two factors:

  1. “We live in big social groups, and while bees, ants, and termites also live in huge social groups – we live among strangers. Other groups are built around relations or known members.

    “As a result, we humans have developed an acute sense of whom we can trust and whom we can count on just by looking. We are hardwired to quickly determine whom we should be loyal to.”

  1. “We arrive into the world,” he said, “completely dependent and we remain that way for decades. During that time, we survive and learn, but only with the help of others. Fundamentally, we are not meant to be alone. We develop emotions (as opposed to instincts) along an arc of fear, envy, love, loneliness, hate, and disgust. And, we develop mechanisms to control how we act and think.”

The Paradox of Choice

James noted that making decisions is fraught with complexities. In fact, he said, “No one likes choice. We are paralyzed by it. It’s too hard. So, we stick with decisions we’ve made until something in the relationship changes.”

James pointed out that we experience and express loyalty when we find the following to be true about a person, organization or cause:

  • They make our lives safer

  • They make our lives easier

  • They make our lives better

Utility becomes the driver for forming relationships.

James noted, “You might think that because you have a state-of-the-art facility and a high quality staff, that customers should be loyal. But we humans don’t judge by the outcome, we judge by the process. The job in senior living is to make residents’ lives safer, easier, and better. It’s a basic promise.”

Three Essential Elements of Loyalty

“The best senior communities,” he said, “are very good at making resident’s lives better. But, you’re not going to get any brownie points (or credit) for that. It’s expected. To create loyalty, you’ll have to go above that.”

To gain loyalty, James explained, three things are needed:

  1. Trust — James said trust is the outcome of competency, character, consistency, and capacity or resources

  2. Purpose — He noted that the aim of the relationship has to go beyond the mere exchange of money

  3. Belonging — James noted that in all phases of community marketing, potential customers will be looking to see how well staff develops the sense of belonging, which includes the following:

    1. Recognition – Do you know who I am; what I care about? Have you discerned what’s important to me by the way I dress, my attitude, what I’ve said, and the people I surround myself with? By knowing your prospects and customers, you are saying, “I listened.”
    2. Insight – There are things people do not share; they’re kept private, except with those closest to us. These are likely to be aspirational, fears, or worries. Do you have any insights about what people have not told you?
    3. Proactivity – Collecting information about what’s important to your customers; knowing what matters to them and solving problems before asked; by doing things customers never expected.
    4. Inclusion – Humans have learned never to let themselves be excluded. If you’re left out, you are vulnerable. The burden is on the marketer to make prospects and customers feel included. As Yelp (and other review sites) demonstrate – opinions matter.
    5. Identity – James noted that this is the most important of these elements. “We are more likely to trust people who look and act like us. We have a natural bias. ‘Different’ is potentially a threat.”

      Marketers have to get past any biases. They have to look at people, assume they are like us, and identify with them. They have to believe in what their customers’ and prospects’ believe, including the outcomes they want. 

For more information about James and his work, visit his website at www.jameskane.com