Whether you know it or not, switching barriers play a role in every buying decision you make. From the car you drive to the phone you use, switching barriers are built into our purchases to maintain our loyalty to brands. So how can you incorporate these powerful tools into your own business?

The answer to this questions lies in your ability to build a brand community.

If you’re not sure how to do this, don’t worry! We’re going to explore what a switching barrier is and show you how to grow a brand community through methods that also create switching barriers.

What is a switching barrier?

When you’re buying a new computer, one of the biggest decisions you need to make is choosing an operating system: Mac or Windows.

Chances are your new computer will have the same operating system as the one you currently own. This isn’t necessarily because you think it’s the superior choice, but rather because it’s the easier one. The switching barrier of having to learn how to navigate a new operating system, learning new keyboard shortcuts, and navigating different software makes it extremely likely that you’ll keep using the same brand of computers.

A switching barrier (also known as a switching cost) can take many different forms, ranging from the cost of buying out a cell phone contract to moving to a new country and learning a foreign language. According to Investopedia:

“[A switching cost is] the costs that a consumer incurs as a result of changing brands, suppliers, or products. Although most prevalent switching costs are monetary in nature, there are also psychological, effort-, and time-based switching costs.”

There are also ways in which you can create switching barriers for your brand without having to radically change your business model. By learning how to create a strong brand community, you can increase your customer retention without having to alter your product.

How you can build switching barriers using community

A brand community can take many different shapes and forms, but in all cases it is a rallying point for your customers. With a strong community, your customers get to be surrounded by like-minded individuals who share their interests. Communities that do this successfully create a powerful switching barrier for their customers because leaving their brand now means more than just leaving your products.

Here are the three best ways you can create a vibrant brand community.

1. Create a social experience for your customers

Social experiences are a great way to protect your company from customer churn because they establish an emotional connection between your brand and your customers. Things like sharing content or engaging on social media or hosting meet ups with customers can further strengthen that bond by intentionally bringing customers into your brand community.

This sense of inclusion and belonging makes it much harder for customers to consider shopping somewhere else. Through these experiences, your customers begin to connect the feeling your community creates to the benefits of using your product. As a result, they begin to feel that switching to a competitor will cause them to lose the knowledge, camaraderie, and experiences that your community offered them.

Building a community through social engagement also takes advantage of the psychological effects of reciprocal relationships.  By giving your customers content and enjoyable experiences for free, they’re more likely to want to return the favour and contribute to your brand’s growing social ecosystem. This not only keeps them engaged in your community but also helps expands its reach, drawing more loyal customers to your business.

Psychology Switching Barriers House of Flynn

The House of Flynn does a stellar job of recognizing their customers on social media and building a community. With a large focus on user-generated content on their homepage, they provide valuable social proof to new buyers while giving their current loyal customers exposure on their website. A brand who interacts with you and puts your photos on their homepage is surely the type of brand you’ll stay loyal to for years to come!

2. Provide customer service that your competitors can't match

When customers believe they’re getting the best possible service, you’ve created an emotional appeal for both your products and your brand as a whole. That’s because for many shoppers, these emotional switching barriers actually carry more influence in a purchase decision than monetary switching barriers ever could. Positive customer service experiences introduce your customers to the people behind your brand and make it more relatable, accessible, and human. This type of emotional relationship plays a huge role in any customer’s purchase decision.

When you make exemplary service a priority in your company, it becomes an incredible bargaining chip that customers don’t want to give up. When a customer goes to leave your business, they’re not just leaving the brand — they’re also leaving Amy, a customer service rep who spent over an hour on the phone with them making sure their problem was fixed. Or what about John, who helped them decide which protein powder was going to be the best for their workouts? By humanizing your brand and creating a culture of valuable service, you can ensure that your customers love not only your products, but the people behind it too.

Companies like Zappos have been putting this idea to the test for years and have experienced incredible customer loyalty as a result. From sending a pair of shoes with free expedited shipping to a best man to staying on a service call for over ten hours, Zappos has consistently shown why they keep so many customers for life. They claim they’re a service company that just happens to sell shoes, and they sure live up to that claim!

When you make customer service a focus of your community, your customers understand that they’re not just an order number: they’re part of your family. Zappos makes it clear to customers both new and old that they’re cared for, which makes switching to another brand more difficult and wholly illogical.

3. Use a rewards program to create more valuable experiences

Without a doubt, a rewards program is the best way to introduce tangible switching barriers to your brand experience. Through additional value and exclusive benefits, reward programs give you the opportunity to delight your customers and improve your community building efforts. When customers are rewarded for sharing their affinity for your brand on social media, completing reviews, or even for celebrating a birthday, their engagement with your community increases and with it their loyalty to your brand.

As a result, your brand’s switching barriers also increase significantly. By electing to purchase from a different brand, customers are forfeiting the benefits your program offers. Even if your competitor has a rewards program, switching would mean giving up their rewards and beginning again with another brand where they have no points or prestige. So a customer who only needs to make one more purchase to earn a $10 reward is highly unlikely to switch to a different brand.

Psychology Switching Barriers REL Explainer

A company who does an amazing job of creating switching barriers with rewards is Run Everything Labs (REL). Competing in the highly competitive supplements market, REL has managed to build lasting customer relationships and community with their rewards program.

Their three VIP tiers are perhaps the most impressive way that they’ve helped foster an exciting brand community. When their customers reach the highest level (REL Elite), they know they’re an important member of the community and feel special as a result.

With each distinct tier and the benefits that go with them, REL has made it so their customers have a reason to continue engaging with their brand over time. Everything from points for purchases to access to exclusive gear and flavors acts as a powerful incentive against switching to another brand and encourages each customer to fully invest in the community they’ve joined. As a result, they not only stay connected but also are more likely to refer others to join them in the experience, expanding REL’s marketing reach and influence in the process.

Switching barriers can work for you

By using one (or more!) of these methods for creating switching barriers, you can increase your customer retention and build a stronger brand community. Whether you choose to use your brand’s customer service, social experiences, or a rewards programs to create powerful switching barriers, your customers will feel that engaging with any other brand would be a mistake. By focusing on building community, you can guarantee that your customers love your brand as much as you do!