Sinatra and the 4 Levels of Client Loyalty

For decades, Frank Sinatra hung out at Patsy’s Italian restaurant on west 56th Street. Why was he so fiercely loyal to this one particular eatery in a city with hundreds of good Italian restaurants. Was it the food? The ambiance? The other stars who went there? The answer is fascinating. It tells us a lot about the essence of loyalty.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Before I finish the Sinatra story, let’s look at the whole loyalty picture.


Who are you loyal to, and why? Is it someone who has simply done a great job for you over the years? Who has gone the extra mile when you had a serious problem?

Perhaps you’re loyal out of duty or obligation. Your company has always used a certain supplier—so you use them too. A feeling of forced loyalty can be very dangerous. It makes you feel like a prisoner. It breeds resentment.

Sometimes, loyalty is inexplicable. Look at Prime Minister Cameron’s apparent loyalty to the disgraced former News of The World editor Andy Coulson. Cameron hired him to be his communications director, based on assurances that he had known nothing about the phone-hacking conducted by his newspaper. Turns out that may not be true. Cameron fired Coulson. But even recently, in the midst of the enormous scandal in the UK, he had Coulson over to the Prime Minister’s summer home, Chequers, for a visit. Wow. Looks awful. A public relations nightmare for 10 Downing Street. Just when Cameron should be running in the opposite direction from Coulson it looks like he is cozying up to him!


There are four levels of loyalty you can aspire to with a client. Circumstances may dictate that you never hit all four with more than a few clients. But you should certainly be able to reach three of the four with many clients.

Level 1: Job-Well-Done Loyalty

This is loyalty a client feels towards a service provider who has done a good job. When you deliver for a client and add value, you earn the right to repeat business. While this is the narrowest form of loyalty, it’s very important. Without Level 1 Loyalty you’ll never get anywhere. You’ll basically have to acquire new clients all the time to replace the ones you’ve lost.

Level 2: Years-of-Service Loyalty

When you become a “steady supplier” for a client, the loyalty tends to deepen over time. We are creatures of habit. We like familiarity and consistency.  There are switching costs involved in moving to a new provider. That said, Years-of-Service Loyalty is not immutable or unbreakable by any means. A competitor may offer fresh ideas, enthusiasm, and perhaps a pricing break that impel a client to switch. (Some accounting and law firm relationships, for example, benefit from Level 2 loyalty).

Level 3: Personal Loyalty

When we get to know someone as a person, one more layer of loyalty gets formed. Familiarity leads to likeability and trust. If your relationship with a client is always strictly business and you never create an emotional connection, you’ll always be at arms-length. It’s easier to fire someone you don’t know very well than someone you have broken bread with and have a personal relationship with.

Level 4: Crisis-Inspired Loyalty

Let’s return to the Chairman, to the legendary Frank Sinatra. He is introduced to Pasquale “Patsy” Scognamillo, a restauranteur, in the 1940s. He frequents his restaurant Sorrento, and then a new one Scognamillo opens called Patsy’s. After Sinatra rockets to fame in the 40s, his career crashes in the 50s. He becomes, literally, a has-been. His records stopp selling. His romance with movie star Ava Gardner is over. His role in “From Here to Eternity,” which revives his fortunes, is still well in the future.

Sinatra is now eating lunch, alone, at Patsy’s. One year, just before Thanksgiving, he calls Scognamillo and asks for a solo reservation for Thanksgiving day. Scognamillo obliges. What Sinatra doesn’t know is that the restaurant is closed for Thanksgiving.

Scognamillo opens his restaurant just for Sinatra on Thanksgiving day. He goes further. He invites the families of his employees to come in for Thanksgiving dinner, so Sinatra will not be alone.

You can imagine Sinatra’s reaction when, later, he finds out what the owner of Patsy’s has done for him. Sinatra, who is now a washed-up has-been. Sinatra, who nobody cares about anymore. Who the press ignore. When Sinatra is at his lowest point, Scognamillo doesn’t just go the extra mile—he moves Heaven and Earth for him.

This incident sealed the Chairman’s loyalty to Patsy’s. Later, when his career rebounded and he became one of the biggest solo acts in the world—a veritable cultural icon—he maintained his undying loyalty to Scognamillo’s little restaurant on 56th st. (See the CNN article on Sinatra’s loyalty to Patsy’s, and the full history behind that relationship).

Do you know a client who is in-between jobs? Who is in the midst of a personal crisis? A career crisis? Who is struggling in their organization? A client who is down but probably not out? This is your opportunity to build Level 4 Loyalty.

You won’t do it, however, because you’re a mercenary who is capitalizing on someone’s difficulties. Deep down, you’ll do it because relationships are important to you. Because you care for the person. Because you want to help them.

For related articles on how to build client loyalty, have a look at these from my article archive:

“Creating a Unique Client Experience”

“Best Practices for Building C-Suite Relationships”


Andrew Sobel is the leading authority on client relationships and the skills and strategies required to earn enduring client loyalty. The most widely published author in the world on business relationships, he is a consultant, educator, and coach to major services firms worldwide. Andrew is the author of the recently released All for One: 10 Strategies for Building Trusted Client Partnerships—which was voted one of the top 10 professional services sales and marketing books of the decade—as well as the business bestsellers Clients for Life and Making Rain . He has contributed chapters to four books on leadership, marketing, and human resources management; and his articles and work have appeared in publications such as the New York Times, US Today, Strategy+Business, and the Harvard Business Review. He was a Senior Vice President and Country Managing Director for Gemini Consulting, where he served on the European Executive Committee, and for the last 15 years he has led his own consulting firm, Andrew Sobel Advisors, Inc. He can be reached at (Tel: 505.982.0211).


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