The past year has been challenging for almost all sectors of industry as Covid-19 has drastically changed the way society as a whole behaves. Mickinsey reports that in the US, 75% of people have shifted their previous brand loyalty, with the majority of those intending to continue with this behaviour. As ‘homebody’ shopping has become the dominant method of purchasing new products, customer reviews are just a short click away – and 9/10 people read these comments specifically to help them make decisions about where to spend their money. Online shopping isn’t going anywhere so businesses should be ready for this growing and changing frontier.
What hasn’t changed, however, is the impact that consumer loyalty will have on your business. If you can cultivate a relationship with your customers, then you are looking at a transformative boost to your performance, and ultimately your profits. Uplifting loyalty by just 5% across the board can create an incredible 25%-95% increase in overall profit.
While Covid-19 might have made it more challenging to create consumer loyalty in the first place, the results are clearly worth it. Not only are existing customers providing the bread and butter of your income, but they are one of the driving forces behind a new business acquisition. A first-time customer is more likely to have found you through a friend than through a cold marketing strategy or self-referral. So, how can you make sure that you are doing everything you can to satisfy and retain your existing customers?
1. Know what is important to your customer
You will almost certainly have read or sat through the basic principles of good customer service countless times. It’s all good stuff and, even if you’ve heard it before, that doesn’t make it irrelevant. But the world is changing and successful businesses are the ones that keep up with the changes. Post Covid-19, you need to get inside the mind of your customer and really deliver what’s important to them: personalised service, recognition, ethical policies, brand activism, and problem-free interactions with your tech.
It’s easier than ever to find out what your consumers think about you without cumbersome real-life focus groups. Tools like insight tags make it possible to track themes and keywords that get a lot of mentions in reviews and on social media. By making the most of tools like this, you can use your live communication channels, such as social media, to respond to relevant topics in real-time. Pharmaceutical company Sanofi famously interjected when American TV star Roseanne Barr blamed a racist tweet on the side-effects of Ambien, a Sanofi-made sleep aid. The company swiftly tweeted that theirs was a diverse and inclusive workforce and that racism was not a known side-effect of their medication.
Obviously, this was pasted all over the newspapers and was hard to avoid, but insights like these can encourage repeat business as well as divert disaster.
Recognising your customer as an individual is a key part of this process. You hold a huge amount of data about the people who buy from you – so be generous with it. Use it to give as well as take. If you know someone’s birthday, make sure they receive an advantage on that day. If they have returned to buy the same thing multiple times, offer their next purchase free. Small businesses are great at customer validation like this; so, think like your neighbourhood restaurant and make your customer feel great about the choice they made to go with you instead of a competitor.
2. Understand their journey
What does your customer actually go through when they are making a purchase of your goods or services? What must they do? 84% of people report that being treated like a human being is a key factor when they decide which business or product to go with, and 80% of individuals claim that the service they receive is just as important as the goods they buy.
The Swedish home-furnishing giant IKEA is a great example of an intelligent assessment of their customers’ reality. Because they store and sell their goods inside large industrial warehouses, IKEAs are usually found on the edge of towns and cities, accessible only by road. They are surrounded by other business parks and warehouse units, with smaller shops, parks and entertainments centres elsewhere. You don’t “pop” to an IKEA, it’s a day out. The fact that they have a restaurant and a child’s play area makes it possible to visit as a family. Few people like the idea of lugging heavy furniture around alone, so adults can take care of this part (making the most of the free pencils, paper, and tape measures) while children can be left in the well-equipped and well-staffed crèche. IKEA has considered the journey of their customers literally and ensured that it is supported at each point. They want to make sure that it is as easy as possible for customers to make purchases. Sweden is good at things like this.
Increasingly, a customer’s journey is not going to be in 3D reality – it is going to be managed online, at least partially. The biggest barrier to purchase is the number and complexity of steps a consumer needs to take, so consider what your customer needs to do precisely to access your products or services. Amazon is well known for the ease of its consumer journey and Amazon Kindle has perfected this streamlining by the nature of the product. Nobody wants to “log on” just to read a book, so by default, it is logged on all the time. Because most readers set up the Kindle with the same username they have for their main Amazon account, the payment information is synced across as well. All you have to do to purchase a book is press a button and it downloads to your library. It’s possible to return, but the pathway for this involves more steps than the original purchase!
3. Integrate their experience across channels
This is becoming more and more of a priority as consumers want to engage with brands on their terms, through their preferred channel. This can also be used as a way to promote and encourage return business. Everyone has had an experience where they are at the checkout and the server attempts to offer a loyalty card or programme. Most of the time this involves a lengthy sign-up process, but H&M has an impressively quick version of this. It’s all done through a mobile website and the setup only takes a couple of minutes. Once you are signed up as a guest, you get a time-sensitive code that can be scanned by the cashier on the spot – meaning you can enjoy the discount with the purchase that bought you to the shop in the first place.
Starbucks has received multiple accolades for its omnichannel loyalty scheme and is one of the most popular brand apps out there. At heart, it’s a basic loyalty card scheme, but its most impressive feature is the way that the card syncs rapidly whenever any change is made to the card’s balance.
Not all multi-channel opportunities are about directly leveraging further transactions with a consumer. Most big sports brands like Nike or Adidas have free-running and cycling apps that anyone can use: first-timer to professional. You don’t need to pay a monthly fee or have bought anything specific from the brand to use the app – it’s part of their “ambient” brand presence.
4. Don’t be afraid to break with tradition if it keeps customers happy
With the pandemic seriously limiting the channels we previously relied on, one of the most seemingly impersonal support routes, the chat button, has come into its own. Telephone centres have been shut or limited, and demand has created bottlenecks that can be seriously frustrating. However, a well-trained team on live chat support can reduce response times by up to 92% and leave 90% of customers satisfied with the experience they had.
Tado, a company that provides intelligent home-heating systems, made the decision to completely cut their telephone support systems after a successful trial with live-chat support only. Because live-chat is written, it generates content data that a telephone exchange cannot – and new software tools are making it possible to track common issues and further tailor the support that is provided. Chat doesn’t just have to be limited to fixing problems that have occurred: 82% of people who are approached to “chat” when they visit a website go on to buy something, which is a 13% increase on those who do not engage with a live-chat.
You don’t have to commit entirely to a new way of doing things without a trial period. Dip your toe in the water and assess what your customers think of you before committing to anything.
The most important thing is to be generous with the support that you do offer. This is where well-trained staff come in. It is so easy to tell who genuinely cares and who doesn’t when you are having a direct interaction. Everyone knows the tone of someone who can’t wait to get you off the phone. This is easily avoided by ensuring that the conditions of your customer support team are good and that they are empowered to do their jobs well. The benefits to your business will range from higher customer satisfaction to greater productivity and lower staff turnover.
5. Ask for feedback – and show your customer how it counts.
This is probably the most important point on the list. Feedback is crucial to your business for so many reasons. Just being asked for feedback is enough to improve your customer’s perception of their experience, so simply checking in with a customer is a worthwhile exercise in and of itself. As mentioned before, the vast majority of shoppers consult feedback before they make a purchase, so it has to exist in order for people to read it! But these are the “meta” reasons for being open to what your customers think. The main reason is that honest feedback is the key to the most important shifts you need to make in your business.
Your customers are real-world test driving your products and systems all the time and as a result, they know you as well as, if not better than, you know yourself. You may have glitches in your system software or issues with a third-party supplier and it’s far more likely that a customer will discover this quicker than you find it.
Of course, make sure you are using systems to gather feedback that only verified customers can use – otherwise you are leaving yourself open to reputational damage from fake reviews.
So, if you are encouraging feedback and putting it to good use in your strategic meetings, what else do you need to do? Well, there’s no point making the changes that are important to your customers if you don’t make sure the message of your good work gets out there. It is possible to respond to everyone who has reviewed you, and even if you are not able to respond to that many at first, it is a goal you should aspire to reach.
6. Really understand the social you have
Twitter is a great example of how it is possible to have excellent response rates and create relationships between followers and a brand. Dominos pizza is known for its irreverence and the jokes it shares with its customers, building the relationship between company and consumer. But it is a double-edged sword, as it all takes place in a public forum: those who ride the Twitter-beast well can reap the rewards, but those who do not can face public embarrassment.
You really need to know your audience when you engage on Twitter, as followers can quite easily ‘cancel’ or damage the brand if they turn on it. Xbox is an example of knowing both their audience and the capacity of their support team. They have a dedicated Twitter handle for support issues which are separate from their main brand handle. Because gamers keep odd hours, they are careful to state exactly when their support team is available to help – perhaps an obvious detail, but knowing who uses your products, when and how, will help you to keep your customers happy.
7. Showcase your beliefs and values
This is becoming increasingly important to consumers, especially younger ones. Generation Z is more concerned with company ethics and values than any previous generation, and it is a key influence when younger people consider where they are happy to spend their cash. In fact, 64% of people claim that this is a decisive factor in the consumer choices they make.
So, consider carefully how you wish to go forward with this. What is important to you? What do you believe? Does your product or service naturally integrate environmental or social issues? Links can be found in the most surprising places. Absolut vodka has been actively engaged with the gay community through advertising since the 1980s when the AIDS crisis hit that community hard. It was unusual at that time for a private company to publicly link itself to LGBT+ issues, but Absolut saw a place for its product, and thus its endorsement, in the gay-friendly spaces of nightclubs and bars.
Years later in 2017, the ice-cream company Ben & Jerry’s stepped up to campaign for the rights of gay people to marry in Australia where the majority of citizens supported gay marriage, but the parliament did not. They refused to sell two scoops of the same flavoured ice cream at any of their sites in Australia to raise awareness about the issue. It might seem like a trivial act, but it raised a lot of awareness and fit with the company’s history of supporting same-sex couples in their staff team. They were the first company in Vermont to offer the same benefits as straight couples received, implementing this policy in 1989, decades ahead of their time when compared to some other companies.
8. Remain authentic
It’s important to be careful with social justice marketing, however – as young consumers especially are quick to point out advertising and branding that uses social issues inauthentically neglecting to back up messaging with action or company policy. Being accused of “white-washing” or “green-washing” can seriously damage public perception.
The test is, “does this actually benefit a specific group or community?” Pepsi’s Kendal Jenner “protest” ad put a lot of people off the brand for a long time when it was accused of trivialising Black Lives Matter. However, Netflix and Glossier are two companies that have measurably improved life for black creatives and entrepreneurs. Netflix has not only provided an international platform for black artists’ work but has accelerated the expansion of audiences for black talent.
The customers that you have already attracted have the capacity to improve your profit margin to an astonishing extent. And they are ready and willing to tell you exactly what you need to do in order to make them spend more money. You simply need to be willing to listen – even if what you hear sounds negative, it is a path forward and it is fixable. In fact, companies that are open about their mistakes can often turn out to be the greatest success stories of all.