In a time of intensely-heated retail competition (both online and offline), customer loyalty is more valuable and sought-after than ever before. Big retailers will try any methods they can think of to keep their buyers from going elsewhere, and their smaller rivals must hunt for unique approaches in order to stay within touching distance.
However, customer loyalty can be quite a slippery thing, changing as it does with people’s needs and preferences (which themselves change both personally and generationally). What earns customer loyalty one year might be wholly ineffective by the next.
In this piece, we’re going to look at the latest trends driving customer loyalty, considering what makes people become loyal to certain brands and how businesses can adapt their brand marketing to best suit the current digital climate. Let’s begin.
Having access to essentially-unlimited information about the world through the internet, and being equipped to discuss matters of ethics and morality at length through always-accessible social media channels, the younger generations in particular have a keen interest in the world of business ethics. And since it’s exceptionally rare to find a company providing vital wares that cannot be sourced (or closely replicated) through another company, the average consumer has enough choice in their purchasing habits to readily drop any given business.
Factor in all of these things and you have a climate in which businesses of all kinds must be exceptionally careful what they say and how they behave. There are still plenty of customers who’ll simply get whatever’s cheapest with little regard for how the supplier behaves, but the number of prospective buyers unwilling to trade with any companies not sharing their values is most certainly on the rise.
To meet this trend, maintain a robust social presence with a strong sense of accountability. Reach out to customers to find out what issues they care about — you never want to turn a blind eye to their concerns — and update your policies as and when necessary to show that you’re willing to learn and change.
The increasing importance of transparency in business is slightly similar to the rising demand for ethical responsibility, but somewhat milder in nature, and decidedly more common. The fact of the matter is that people don’t like being lied to or misled, and behaviours that businesses could get away with in the pre-internet days are now incredibly risky — it only takes one alert party to post a damaging comment to social media.
The overblown predictions and claims of the dot-com bubble made it clear that the internet was never to be a magical wonderland, then the global financial market collapsed in 2008 and showed everyone that banks aren’t to be trusted, and then high-profile data leaks gave everyone good reason to be suspicious about online retailers.
In general, today’s world is burdened with such contention and division that it’s mildly surprising that anyone trusts anyone else. As a result, any business that wants customer loyalty must work extremely hard over time to prove that it isn’t out to exploit people, maintaining total transparency in order to convince customers that it deserves their support.
Rising UX standards
As soon as the finger-friendly capacitive touchscreen achieved mainstream viability, the venerable desktop interface began an irreversible decline. Now, we run so much of our lives through our slick smartphone operating systems that we lack the patience to trudge through poorly-designed retail systems, whether they’re clumsy checkouts or confusing product pages.
Add in the surfeit of retail options that we already covered, and you start to see the experiential factors move into positions of prominence. It isn’t enough to go online and get the items we’re looking for, because we can get them anywhere and at any time — no, we need something more. We need the process of shopping and buying to be more convenient, more understandable, more enjoyable, and more rewarding.
Your business can have the best product, prices, and services, but if your website is difficult to use (or even just offers an inferior experience to that of rival sites), then you’ll have a very tricky time getting customers to stick around. Consider measuring task completion — that way you’ll get some idea of how effectively your UX is functioning.
It used to be standard practice for businesses to steer clear of other companies in similar industries — after all, they didn’t want to push any visitors away. Once someone arrived at your website, you’d do anything and everything to keep them there, minimising the risk of losing them to a competitor.
But the problem with that approach today is that we’re seeing escalating levels of cross-system connectivity, particularly through our smartphones. What I mean by this is that the ecosystems cultivated by Google (through Android) and Apple (through iOS) set a precedent for applications interconnecting in a very convenient way, and eventually other businesses realised that if they couldn’t pry traffic away from those ecosystems, they would have to integrate with them.
Instead of being perceived as a mark of uncertainty, giving people options to connect with external systems through your retail website or app is considered a mark of confidence in what you have to offer, and a willingness to do what’s most convenient for your customers.
Think about it this way — if one retail app allows the user to pay through any common system, and another requires the user to pay through a proprietary system, which one will be considered more worthy of a download? It’s the former, naturally, because we know by now that it’s perfectly possible to connect everything in a convenient way.
If you want to earn the loyalty of your customers in this digital landscape, you need to maintain a responsible image, be honest and authentic in everything you do, work hard to provide optimised user experiences, and be willing to make concessions that are not directly in your interests — and that’s on top of all the ingredients that never change, such as listening to your customers and keeping your prices down.
It might sound daunting, but remember that you don’t do everything at once. It’s a slow, steady process. Keep working on your customer service, and sooner or later you’ll see a meaningful uptick in your retention rate.
Kayleigh Alexandra is a content writer for Micro Startups, a site all about growth hacking and turning ambitions into reality. Visit the Micro Startups blog today for some handy tips and industry stories, and follow us on Twitter @getmicrostarted.