The answer is yes, according to the seventh wave of Carlson Marketing Group's Relationship Builder research, revealed exclusively here by Marketing.
What's more, they are now even more interested in these relationships than they were seven years ago, when Carlson first carried out the study.
The research seeks to quantify the strength of the relationship between individual customers and a company's brand, as well as benchmarking the performance of top UK companies across different sectors.
More than 100 brands were surveyed and divided into six sectors: finance, retail, automotive, travel, FMCG and utilities.
This year's results, based on responses from 16,000 consumers, show that 80% of respondents possess two or more loyalty cards, while 78% have actively redeemed in a loyalty programme.
Although detractors would put this down to the proliferation of loyalty schemes, rather than a real consumer desire to get close to brands, the impact of these initiatives appears to have grown significantly.
In 1997, only 33% of respondents said they would spend more with a company if they were in its loyalty scheme. Today, that has more than doubled to 68%.
Conversely, in 1997, 67% said membership of a scheme would not affect the amount they purchased at all. This year only 23% argued there would be no effect on their spending.
Six years ago, preferential treatment was cited more widely as a good reason for participation in loyalty programmes - 48% then versus 36% now.
The decline may be due to greater cynicism about the effective delivery of preferential service.
While customer service has increased in importance, staff courtesy is considered key - 91% strongly agreed or agreed - ahead even of product knowledge (87%). Appearance of staff achieved a lowly 58%.
Nearly all respondents have bought goods online - 50% have spent £500 or more online in the past six months, and 72% have bought from three or more web sites in that same period.
Companies' communications were rated on a five-point scale from 'definitely remember the communications' down to 'definitely don't remember the communications'.
Mercedes-Benz, Guinness, BMW and Marriott sent the most memorable direct mail, while Vodafone and Guinness sent the most memorable e-mails. The least memorable direct mail was sent by Norwich Union, Standard Life and Ford. Hilton and Marriott delivered the least memorable e-mails.
E-mail came out ahead of direct mail and telemarketing for communicating offers, with 25% of the sample saying offers delivered via direct mail were 'not motivating', while only 16% felt the same way about e-mail or telemarketing.
"We always thought that Europcar's customers preferred e-mails," says Europcar UK head of brand marketing Adrian White. "We will probably increase the amount of e-mail offers and online marketing we do." Across direct mail, e-mail and phone, the respondents felt that communication frequency, length and language were about right, with 87% happy with mailing frequency.
Companies singled out for sending direct mail too often were Abbey National, First Direct and HBOS. Boots, BUPA and Argos were seen to be communicating too infrequently.
Prudential and Norwich Union attracted criticism for sending out direct mail that was too long.
WOULD CONSUMERS RECOMMEND YOUR BRAND?
Amazon, easyJet, Huggies, Virgin and Guinness were the top five brands that customers most recommended to others, while retail, consumer goods and travel were the sectors in which consumers were most predisposed to make positive recommendations.
The flipside of this - sectors and companies about which most complaints were made - saw automotive companies come in for the most opprobrium at 31%.
This was almost three times as much as the next sector, utilities.
Volvo (73%) and Audi (65%) attracted the greatest number of customer service complaints, followed at some distance by First Direct (31%) and Telewest (26%).
Carlson director Gill Hynes says there is a "definite link" between high Relationship Strength Index scores (see box, far right) and customer recommendations.
She explains: "A high RSI score maps directly to higher rates of retention, increased spend and the likelihood that someone would recommend multiple times. It ultimately equals higher profitability."
John Lewis 32
Source: Carlson Relationship Builder
MOST COMPLAINED ABOUT
First Direct 31
Norwich Union 4
Source: Carlson Relationship Builder
Five of the top six companies with the most trustworthy staff were banking or financial services companies, with First Direct at the top of the pile.
This will be heartening for those financial brands that did well, as trust is of great importance when making decisions about savings and investments.
John Lewis, as the only non-financial brand in the top six, should feel especially proud of its staff - particularly as its Waitrose supermarket brand also features on the list at number seven.
The fact that e-tailer Amazon makes the top ten speaks volumes for its efficiency, given the lack of face-to-face contact its staff have with consumers.
Electrical retailers Dixons and Currys both made the top ten list of least trustworthy staff, as did cable and media companies Telewest and NTL, and budget airlines Ryanair and easyJet.
Currys escaped a top ten ranking for having staff bad at handling requests.
Unfortunately, the quintet of other companies mentioned above took the top five places, with Dixons taking the top spot.
First Direct again topped the list for being best at handling requests, with HSBC and John Lewis switching places just below.
Most % Least %
First Direct 65 Telewest 3
John Lewis 52 Ryanair 4
HSBC 41 Dixons 5
Abbey National 39 NTL 6
Standard Life 38 O2 6
Nationwide 38 Safeway 6
Waitrose 37 Currys 7
Virgin 35 EasyJet 8
Marks & Spencer 33 Marriott 9
Amazon 32 Hertz 9
Source: Carlson Relationship Builder (% who strongly agreed that staff
STAFF ABLE TO HANDLE REQUESTS
Best % Worst %
First Direct 61 Dixons 5
HSBC 38 NTL 5
John Lewis 37 Ryanair 5
Virgin 33 EasyJet 5
BMW 30 Telewest 7
Toyota 29 O2 7
Abbey National 28 Safeway 7
Nationwide 27 Argos 7
Waitrose 26 Renault 8
Le Meridien 26 Sainsbury's 8
Source: Carlson Relationship Builder (% who strongly agreed that staff
can handle my request)
HOW DO LOYALTY SCHEMES AFFECT RELATIONSHIPS?
Consumer goods and retail were identified as the two sectors offering the most motivational loyalty offers.
Customers of Dutch airline KLM were among the most enthusiastic for loyalty schemes, with 46% indicating that they were likely to spend more with a company after joining its scheme.
Only customers of Avis (48%) and Nissan, Standard Life and M&S (all 47%) were more inclined to spend more once participating in a loyalty programme.
"This illustrates that investment in loyalty programmes by the airline sector is more important than ever, even in the face of such difficult market conditions," says KLM (UK) marketing manager Paul McNamara. "Airlines clearly have a great deal to lose if they under-invest in these programmes." Yet not as many consumers have as strong emotional attachments to brands as marketers would like. Less than half of the respondents (48%) said they would either stop using a company or use it less frequently if it abolished its loyalty scheme. To be truly effective, loyalty programmes need to have much more to them than a collection and redemption mechanism.
Based on responses to 12 attitudinal statements, respondents were divided into six types. Nissan had the most 'brand safe' customers - those who are very brand-conscious and neither like, nor want, unknown products.
Volkswagen and Pampers have the most 'pre-determined/habitual shoppers' - those who have strong views and whose habits are hard to change.
John Lewis led the way in 'quality and service-driven' customers, M&S was top for 'early adopters', Nescafe for 'convenience is best' and British Gas drew the most 'price/offer flirts' - the least loyal and most price-driven.
Oxford Institute of Retail Management senior researcher Richard Cuthbertson thinks one of the most interesting findings of the research was that the vast majority of respondents had multiple loyalty cards. "There isn't one loyalty scheme that has become dominant and killed off all the others."
PUTTING RELATIONSHIPS TO THE TEST
The Relationship Strength Index is Carlson's proprietary approach to measuring relationships between customers and brands. Each RSI score is derived from 12 psychometric questions covering three vital dimensions to a relationship: trust, commitment and alignment/mutuality.
It takes into account factors such as whether consumers feel they can depend on a brand to deliver on its promise, and be open and honest; whether there is a long-term emotional attachment in the relationship; and whether brand and consumer share values.
"Guinness places significant emphasis on, and invests heavily in, developing strong consumer relationships, so it is rewarding to be benchmarked in the top five," says Guinness relationship marketing manager Alice Woodwark.
"The methodology that Carlson has developed provides an interesting approach to measuring the impact of marketing activities on the strength of consumer relationships.
"Additionally, Carlson's research shows how the score is predictive of future customer behaviour," Woodward continues. "Measuring the hard impact of a brand's relationship marketing investment in the consumer goods sector has always been more difficult than for organisations in the retail sector, for example, where consumer spend can be tracked more directly.
"The findings of the research and the underlying methodology that Carlson has developed will contribute to our ongoing measurement and evaluation of the impact of relationship marketing via multiple media and touchpoints."
Guinness had the top score in the consumer category. Mercedes-Benz, Orange, Virgin, John Lewis and First Direct led their respective categories.
At the other end of the scale, the worst performers in each category were Coca-Cola, Renault, NTL, Ryanair, Dixons and AXA Insurance.
Overall, finance was the category with the highest relationship strength score, especially for trust. The assumption can be made that this is because financial transactions are thought about a lot more deeply than FMCG purchases, for example, and that they are greater in frequency than the likes of car purchases or holidays.
Second strongest of the six sectors was retail, headed by John Lewis and Waitrose. Again there is frequent interaction between consumer and brand that add depth to the relationship.
"Carlson's research highlights that the car-hire travel sector is the toughest field for a business to develop relationships with its customers," says Europcar UK head of brand marketing Adrian White. "The research shows that Europcar has significantly higher levels of trust from its customers than its competitors, but demonstrates that we must differentiate ourselves further to stand out."
White adds that the survey highlighted that the more touchpoints of a brand the customer experiences, the more likely it is that their loyalty will be heightened.
The survey has clarified his belief that Europcar needs to send out re-confirmations of booking to those customers who book far in advance, and send its customers post-rental e-mail surveys rather than just handing them a paper satisfaction questionnaire.
RELATIONSHIP STRENGTH INDEX SCORES
Sector Best Score Poorest Score
Mercedes-Benz 62 Renault 52
Volvo 61 Peugeot 52
BMW 61 Ford 53
Guinness 63 Coca-Cola 48
Huggies 61 Walkers 49
Pampers 57 Kenco 51
First Direct 67 AXA Insurance 52
Nationwide 64 Norwich Union 53
HSBC 63 Direct Line 54
John Lewis 66 Dixons 43
Waitrose 63 Currys 44
M&S 62 Safeway 49
Virgin 66 Ryanair 40
Le Meridien 62 Hertz 48
KLM 60 EasyJet 52
Orange 54 NTL 47
British Gas 53 Telewest 49
Vodafone 52 BT 50
Source: Carlson Relationship Builder (based on responses to 12
statements, scores out of 100)