Tasnia Khan, Product Strategist, Oracle CX
Today’s empowered consumers have never had easier access to information, but also have never been harder to reach. That’s not stopping companies from trying to cultivate loyal customers, who can advocate for and differentiate your brand, giving you a competitive advantage. When a negative Yelp review prevents customers from checking you out, it’s time to do things differently.
A loyal fan will “buy more, visit more, be less price sensitive, follow your advice, and recommend you.” They can help you acquire more customers, increase revenue, customer lifetime value, and be a differentiator in your industry
So why is loyalty so hard to build and maintain? Well, for one thing, loyalty programs have oversaturated the market. The average American belongs to more than ten of them. That’s 3.8 billion individual loyalty program memberships! Let’s face it—consumers are no longer brand-loyal—they’re loyal to their needs in the moment. They may join programs of brands they like, but they’ll only be loyal to brands that offer them relevant rewards and keep them engaged with the right interactions, in the right place, at the right time.
To build a loyal customer base, brands must remain relevant and retain their customer’s interest, otherwise they are a click away from being forgotten.
I’m here to give you some good news about opportunities to build loyalty that spans the entire customer experience journey, from marketing and commerce and service and social engagements.
Here are five ways to differentiate your brand and keep your customers coming back for more:
1. Personalize, Personalize, Personalize
Personalized experiences are now table stakes among retail brands. Consumers want to feel like you know them. They want to feel special and remembered, and may be willing to buy more when they receive hyper-personalized experiences. Build personalized loyalty programs to please them, and then you’ll build trust.
Trust will lead to more opportunities to upsell and cross-sell. Consumers have high standards and want the same personalized experiences they would get if they walked into a store and were greeted by a personal shopper. To achieve this, companies need to leverage data to gain a full view of their customer so that they can identify preferences and anticipate their needs for all in-person, online, and mobile interactions. This hyper-personalization is what customers are looking for, and drives impulse purchases, increases revenue, yields fewer returns and increases loyalty.
Personalization doesn’t have to end with a sale. Consider changing your customer service conversations from textbook answers to a contextual and tailored conversation with a customer through email, live chat, or even a chatbot.
2. Use AI to Connect the Dots (and Bots)
Consumers engage with your brand from infinite combinations of channels. This results in an overwhelming amount of data to interpret. Personalization is easier said than done!
This is where AI helps you understand the consumer journey, connects all of the data, and finds the missing links so that you can provide your customers with the hyper-personalized experiences they desire. AI analyzes information and finds patterns that feed your systems so that they constantly and intelligently recalibrate in real time to anticipate customer needs and serve the right content to optimize the next step of the customer journey, empowering innovation and growth.
3. Encourage Omnichannel Interactions
The vast majority of today’s digital consumers use multiple devices to make their purchases. Mobile is emerging as the preferred path.
Customers move in and out of the customer lifecycle fluidly. They still expect brands to maintain the context of their previous interactions, regardless of channel. But, too often, businesses focus on separate experiences: in-store, online, and mobile. These distinctions create disconnected information, which leads to a disjointed customer experience. Instead, brands should integrate all of their customer data to give consumers more control and more convenient ways to shop, while seamlessly moving among their preferred channels.
Just look at Nordstrom, Starbucks, and Southwest Airlines—brands that realized early on that providing a seamless omnichannel experience was the best way to stand out from the competition.
Think of creative ways for your loyalty members to earn and redeem points across channels.For example, they would like or post pictures on social media with a specific brand hashtag, visit stores, or try sample products to earn points. Allow promotions and points to be redeemed across channels so that customers can choose the method that works best for them.
4. Build Emotional Connections
Most loyalty programs offer member discounts and coupons. However, a customer that’s just there for the discount isn’t truly engaged. Building loyalty requires fostering emotional connections, not just transactional ones.
Companies need to foster experiences that promote loyalty of value, where consumers feel like they are truly part of a community. Per the Harvard Business Review;
“The most effective way to maximize customer value is to move beyond mere customer satisfaction and connect with customers at an emotional level—tapping into their fundamental motivations and fulfilling their deep, often unspoken emotional needs. That means appealing to any of dozens of “emotional motivators” such as a desire to feel a sense of belonging, to succeed in life, or to feel secure.”
How can your loyalty program eliminate friction from the customer experience and build value? The opportunities to build value can vary tremendously from industry to industry. For example, a grocery store could offer a cooking class for loyal members, while an airline might promote a trip redemption.
There are different ways to incentivize behavior, whether that features gifts with purchase, gamifying a redemption experience, or helping consumers decide what to purchase. Focus on the full experience, not just the process of earning points. Look to solve a customer’s problems before they happen. Be there for them as more than just a coupon code and you’ll build lasting loyalty.
5. Don’t Forget the Logistics
While not the most exciting part of customer loyalty, logistics are a defining element in the customer journey. Logistics ensure that customers are supported every step along their journey. Don’t overlook inventory, shipping, forecasting, and delivering the right product to the right place at the right time. The second that a package gets lost, an item is canceled because it’s actually out of stock, or a hotel room isn’t ready for a traveler—your business risks losing loyalty and trust.
As we saw above, the traditional channels of engagement are changing. Your brand should be easily reachable to discuss logistics. A good way to do that is through social media. Customer service interactions over Twitter have increased 250% in the last two years. Social media is essential for fostering loyalty and emotional connections. Ensure your representatives are available and armed with the knowledge to handle questions about the logistics on all channels.
Emerging technologies can help streamline your logistics. For example, use AI to improve forecasting. IoT can improve inventory visibility and get products delivered to a customer more efficiently. Make sure that these technologies tap into your organization’s broader network, integrating with consumer data to provide seamless experiences. In this day and age, you need to figure out what the customer wants in the quickest way possible, without any hassle on their side.
Providing superior, connected customer experiences is how to build loyalty and outdo the competition. Price is no longer a differentiating factor for businesses. Customers expect you to know what they want, before they even show up. The customer evolution makes it imperative for businesses to ensure they are reducing customer effort and deploying emotional connection strategies to improve loyalty.
The path is clear: Customer loyalty means brand advocates, higher revenue, and customer lifetime value. Rise to the top of the pack during the customer evolution by creating loyal customers who can’t wait to interact with you again!
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