Commodity vs. Loyalty

Day in and day out, for the past 20 years we - the Virardi company and family - fill our car tanks from...

Day in and day out, for the past 20 years we - the Virardi company and family - fill our car tanks from a specific petrol station. About 11 to 15 of our cars per day pass from the petrol station for one or more of their services.

It was Wednesday 1:52pm. 

Knowing that Wednesday’s are “afternoon-off-working-days” I didn’t want to risk driving to the petrol station to no avail so I called and asked if I can bring my car in for a wash. The lady at the other end of the line confirmed that it was ok and then informed me that the car laundry is open until 4pm.

After her affirmative reply, I said, please be so kind when my car gets there, to fill in my petrol tank too. To my surprise, she told me that I can fill the tank on that particular day only if the car is at the petrol station no later than the next eight minutes.

You see, unlike the car wash that was closing at 4pm - the petrol pumps* at the same station were closing at 2pm. Asked if she (they) could wait for me - judging from traffic I could barely make it on time but I wouldn’t arrived later then 2:05pm - her exact reply was: 

“If you make it, you make it. If not, then you can always come back and fill in your car tank tomorrow.”

That petrol station is not the cheapest one in the area. Far from it, a drive around will many times unveil better pricing options. 

However, there is value in being loyal. There’s better understanding of each others needs, there’s instant connection and smooth collaboration simply because we are more familiar with the people, the service or the product at a particular business. Loyal customers understand that there's almost always something better out there, but they're not so interested in looking.

As Seth Godin says: “If your offering is always better, you don't have loyal customers, you have smart ones.”

Of course loyalty isn’t a forever thing. It takes sacrifices from both parties, the consumer and the seller. It involves leaving a petrol pump open for those five extra minutes in order to maintain a trusted relationship that will reap long term benefits in the future.  

The lady at the petrol station declined the chance to add to the company’s loyalty deposits and made the mistake to take our loyalty for granted.

But unlike petrol, loyalty is not a commodity.


*The reason I didn't fill in the tank myself from the automated self-service, that is provided by the petrol station, is that we have an arrangement with the petrol station, which is the major benefit we have for being returning and loyal customers, to have our car tank filled by the petrol station attendants and pay  all our outstanding bills at the end of the month.