Not that long ago, being loyal was a commendable trait.
It was something that people looked for in others, and that people strived to be in personal and business relationships.
Being loyal was praised, noteworthy, and, at times, rewarded, as Granny discovered one morning.
The old gal came in giddy as a school girl with a cupcake, clutching a small silver tray in her hands.
“Lookey what I got,” she exclaimed, showing off her pretty.
“What is it?” Mama asked, barely looking up from her crossword.
“It’s a silver tray,” Granny said.
“What did you get it for?” Mama asked.
“It was a gift,” Granny said.
“That’s nice,” Mama replied.
“Don’t you want to know who gave it to me?” the old gal asked.
Mama sighed, realizing Granny was not going to leave her to her crossword in peace until she did. “Okay, who gave it to you?”
“I got it at Sanders’ furniture. I went by there to look at recliners – your daddy is about due for a new chair – and I popped in and they called me over there and gave me this lovely silver tray.” She held it up for Mama’s inspection. “Ain’t it fancy?”
Now, the little silver tray was not anything super special. It was maybe about five inches long and three inches wide, not big enough to be used as a serving tray, so I had no idea what use Granny would have for it.
But to Granny, it was one of the finest things she had.
It was free, and it was given to her in a gesture of appreciation, two things the old gal loved.
Mama was suddenly intrigued. “They gave you that just because you were in there looking at a chair?” she asked.
“Yup. It was for customer appreciation. I ain’t heard of that before, but I sure do like it. I think other places need to start giving me something when I go in there.”
Mama twisted her mouth. “I bought a sofa and loveseat in there last month. Where’s my tray?”
“You’ll need to go up there and get it,” Granny said.
And Mama did. She delayed finishing her crossword long enough to drive to town to find out what this customer appreciation thing was about.
When she returned, she had her own tray. We were suddenly a two-tray family then. But more importantly, Mama and Granny felt like their business was appreciated, which made them loyal customers.
Being valued as a customer was something that for a brief while was the norm.
Even if it the little gifts were branding for the business to give them free advertising, it was a token of appreciation and made us feel good about doing business with the company.
At least until some places started offering discounts and incentives to entice people to switch from their tried and true companies. It worked too. People would fall for the bait and change who and where they did their business.
Not me. I came from a family that had two silver trays because of their loyalty.
Several years ago, I called to see if I could take advantage of a special deal with our then satellite service.
“That’s just for new customers,” I was told.
“I have been a customer for eight years,” I protested.
“I see that your contract is up,” the rep told me.
“What does that mean?”
“It means we can set you up as a new customer, which would give you the special rate for two years and give you new receivers.”
“And after two years?”
“After two years, just tell us you need to set up a new account again.”
That part was a lie.
But, I still stuck with them for about five more years until I finally switched to another one. It was only after some horrible customer service experience made me pull the plug, but I did.
The new satellite service seemed thrilled to have my business, too.
I still felt ambivalent about the whole thing. I had been a long-time customer of the other company; didn’t they care they lost my business?
Just a few weeks ago, I needed to replace a phone.
I have been with my cell phone provider for 12 years and through many, many phones.
Not only did I need to replace one phone, I wanted to add a line for my child.
I went in to the store and asked what phones I could get for free – I am all about free. I get it honestly; remember the silver trays?
I was told there were no free options for me and they would not be able to waive activation fees.
“But, if you were a new customer you could get brand new iPhones.”
“Are you kidding me?”
The guy who barely looked older than my teenager didn’t even blink. “Oh, no. I don’t kid about free iPhones. But you can’t get the offer if you aren't a new customer.”
Needless to say, I left.
I called a few days later and was told the same thing.
“If you were a new customer, we could give you free iPhones. But, you’re not. You’ve been with us a while.”
“So, I am basically punished because I have been a loyal customer?” I asked.
The person on the other end of the phone didn’t respond.
I went online to a competitor. “Looking to switch and add a line,” I wrote in the window.
“We are so happy to have you! Let me tell you the awesome deals we have for you!”
It was a bittersweet victory.
The company I had been with for close to 13 years didn’t seem to care they were losing my business – they were giving away free iPhones, so there were dozens of people to take my place.
But the new cell phone company was delighted to have acquired my business.
I felt dirty, used and abused.
All I wanted was a free phone.
But unlike the days of the silver trays, customer loyalty was not rewarded.