It must have been 6:58 pm on Thursday, June 10, 1999.
Without warning, Ebay's site went down. But no one at Ebay broke into a sweat. Back in 1999, Ebay had been down on May 5 (for five hours), on May 20 (for seven hours). And on June 9, after Ebay's site redesign, the server had gone blinko for six hours.
But the June 10 server crash was different
Ebay's main engineer, Wilson, had just vamoosed for a week's vacation on Bonaire–a Dutch colony off Venezuela that was unreachable by air, four times a week.
By Friday afternoon, Ebay's customers were getting restless.
It had been over twenty one hours since the server meltdown. What's worse, is that no one seemed to know when normalcy would be returned.
So Why Didn't Ebay's Customers Defect to Auction Universe?
After all, Auction Universe was Ebay's strongest rival (at the time). It's not like some of the customers didn't try to move. After all, many customers depended on Ebay sales for their bread and butter.
And yet, Ebay had a stickiness factor that couldn't be replicated
Ebay's users found, to their dismay, that when they moved over to Auction Universe, they stood to lose more than Ebay's massive traffic.
The crux of the stickiness factor was the feedback ratings– their reputation on Ebay. When someone sells a product on Ebay, there is instant feedback. The buyer rates the seller. The seller rates the buyer.
And both parties, move one level up the Ebay food chain.
Naturally, having earned their ‘stars' on Ebay, none of the buyers or sellers were ready to budge.
That's not counting the power of the community
Over the years, Ebay wasn't just another selling outlet. It was the place where far-flung customers made friends. If they left for another site, they'd miss community members like Pongo, and Uncle Griff. You could be forgiven for thinking that customers were actually loyal to Ebay.
Loyal to Ebay? You must be joking!
Customers did care about Ebay; they did care about the community. But they cared more about themselves. If they left Ebay, all the effort and reputation they'd worked so hard to earn, would be wiped out in an instant. They'd feel excommunicated. And they'd have to start all over again. No community. No rating. And not a good feeling whatsoever.
It's why customers tend to stay with Amex
Notice what it says on the bottom of an Amex Card? Member since 1975. Or Member since 1982. Or member since whatever. That's Amex's stickiness factor. If you cancel the card membership and ‘vayamos' over to another card, you lose the privilege of the ‘Member since…' forever.
Don't mix up stickiness with spending lots of money
It's likely you're not the CEO of an airline with squillions of pesos to spend on a frequent flier program. And oui, you may not own a café where you can tempt customers to come back for the tenth coffee free. But it doesn't matter.
Because stickiness isn't about deep pockets
It's about creating a factor, remember? Something that causes customers to keep coming back. Graceland doesn't pay you to come back to visit. Yet thousands pay homage to Elvis'mansion each year. Your newspaper becomes sticky, because you need to know what's happening in your community.
So does your business have a stickiness factor?
If not, don't fret just yet.
There are ways to become sticky:
1) Use the Community-Format: The Country Club lets you in, only because you're a member. Can you create a ‘Country Club' amongst your clients, where they get to mingle and network (and increase business) just by being part of the club?
2) Use the Surprise Format: Each year, you could give a surprise gift to your customers, as long as they continue to do a certain amount of business with you. This surprise should be unique and desirable, so that customers stay as part of your group–to get the benefits of what you offer–but also to get the surprise each year.
3) Use the Penalty Method: If a subscriber drops out of the Psychotactics newsletter, they can't access the hidden articles. Only existing subscribers and members of 5000bc are privy to hidden articles. Can you create an in-built penalty, not unlike Ebay and Amex?
Stickiness is an intangible, yet extremely powerful factor to keep customers coming back. Loyalty is a mythical word. Stickiness is not.
Work with stickiness and your customers will stay put, even when things get choppy and nasty.
Just like they did on Ebay!
Next Step: Want to learn more about branding? Find the entire branding series in text, audio with cartoons!
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