Having your own mug in your neighborhood pub used to mean something; it meant that you were a loyal patron; it meant that you developed such a strong relationship with the pub owners that they made you part of their establishment. The mug on the wall in the pub was the ultimate bond between the customer and the service provider - call it customer relationship Utopia.
It couldn't be bought; it had to be earned. Over time.
Has all that changed? Has this former badge of loyalty and longevity been reduced to another item on the menu that any wannabe can buy?
That seems to the be case at Gritty McDuff's, one of my all-time favorite brew-pubs in Portland, Maine. When I first arrived in Portland back in the early 90's, there were a few dozen mugs on the wall behind the bar at Gritty's. As I recall, you had to "earn" membership in the prestigious "mug club" by patronizing the bar enough to develop a relationship with the bartender, who would in turn, set a side a mug just for you. Ah, the early 90's...
Fast forward to July of 2013 - I was in Gritty's with some friends from out-of-town. The collection of mugs on the wall had expanded to a few hundred not only behind the bar, but also on the ceiling above the bar.
"That's a lot of customer loyalty," I thought.
Well, not exactly. The rules at Gritty's have changed since the early 90's. Today, anyone - even the first-time tourist from far away - can buy into the mug club for a $75 annual membership fee. For that, they receive a mug, a baseball cap and discounted beer. Whatever happened to meaningful relationships???
Relationship-based loyalty had been reduced to a transaction that anyone can buy into.
In some ways, having your own mug on the wall after years of loyal patronage can be a bit like the wedding band on your finger, after years of commitment to your spouse. Both icons symbolize a mutual commitment, made stronger over time.
Think about your business for a minute...
Do you offer your customers any programs or symbols of loyalty? And if so, do you keep it real? Or do are you willing to sell-out, by allowing anyone to buy-in, without a commitment?
Truly successful businesses are built upon strong, time-tested customer relationships. If you express it through a symbol, be sure to keep it real!