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How to Build Customer Loyalty in a Digital World

While some retailers may believe that attracting new customers will help merchants gain long-term success, it's really the retention of loyal customers that is the key to a healthy, long-term business for most retail companies. Fortunately, it's also faster and more affordable strategy to retain customers than to constantly chase new ones.

In fact, simply offering a retail loyalty program can often separate your company from a competitor. The 2017 Deloitte Consumer Review explains that "while participation rates to loyalty schemes are relatively high, the reward offered is not seen as differentiating for the brand." This helps reinforce that the idea of a loyalty program is often as beneficial as actually accepting and reacting to the loyalty program rewards.

But in an evolving retail landscape, how do loyalty programs work for customers who are accessing your retail business via multiple channels? There's a growing misconception among retailers that customers gravitating toward omnichannel shopping don't value feedback and interpersonal interaction when shopping. Actually, this couldn't be further from the truth. Consumers who use multiple channels throughout their buying process are highly social and use these technologies to share ideas and product reviews with one another. Modern customers respond to personal connections — seeking peer advice and reinforcement throughout every phase of their buying journey.

To drive customer loyalty, retailers need to facilitate customer conversations by becoming a part of their social shopping experience. What are you doing to create a lasting dialogue with your existing customers? The following three strategies can help lend a human touch across various customer channels:

Strategy #1 — The Store Visit: Win Them Over With Strong Customer Service
Customer loyalty can be gauged by how customers talk to one another about your brand, as well as the frequency with which they visit your company's social media pages and website. General consumer attitudes might be a bit harder to measure than profitability, but it is much easier to influence when you strive to build a relationship with every single customer who steps onto your sales floor.

Engage customers on a personal level by implementing a strong customer service program. Identify core customer service standards you expect every team associate to meet. You may ask that they do a follow-up phone call, handwritten thank you note or email to customers after purchases made in your store. Not only will this increase productivity among your associates, but it also aims to keep customers coming back to your store to see their favorite employees again and again.

Train your employees to understand the value of customer retention and what your store specifically is offering to increase customer loyalty. Make sure all associates are armed with a few reasons why customers can benefit from signing up for your various loyalty programs so they can clearly and easily explain the value of this to customers. Encourage employees to add each customer they come in contact with to your Customer Relationship Management (CRM) database. Also identify at what point of the customer check-out scenario this should take place.

Strategy #2 — Keep in Touch With Customers Through Regular Text Message Marketing
A few years ago, most retailers never would have considered allowing employees cell phones on their sales floor. Yet in a world where, according to a 2016 study by Deloitte, shopping is the second most prominent reason that customers use their cell phones — with 93 percent relying on their phone during at least one point of a shopping experience — it only makes sense to encourage employees to use their smartphones to support your customer relationships.

Text message marketing is a great way for your retail employees to casually engage with customers where they spend the most time. Texting is more personal than sending a flyer about sales, new shipments and in-store events. It's also a quick and easy way for employees to follow-up with customers without the potential of inconveniencing them with a phone call at an inopportune time. Be sure to identify text messaging standards for your associates and only allow them to send texts to customers who have acknowledged a willingness to accept them. You can take cell phone numbers during the check-out process just as you would email addresses and ask customers if they want to be connected this way.

Strategy #3 —Give Customers the Option to Engage Through Email Marketing
A genuine relationship with your customers stops the second they feel overwhelmed by advertising from your company. Instead of investing your resources into online pop-up ads and potentially obnoxious phone calls, focus on building loyalty through methods that give customers control over how they engage with your brand. Give your customers the option to sign up for your company's email list when they check out either in-store or online, and train employees to inform customers that these communication methods will not be used more than a specific number of times per month. This puts the ball in the customers' court, enabling them to opt-in to receiving marketing messages from your company.

By engaging with customers on their terms and giving them the option to receive exclusive discounts and offers according to the communication method they prefer, you pave the foundation for a lasting and — most importantly — mutual relationship with your customers.

Find more ideas to strengthen your customer relationship in CNA's 2018 Guide to the New Realities of Small Retail.
 


 

From the Author
Nicole Leinbach Reyhle is the Founder and Publisher of RetailMinded.com, an industry publication that has been recognized worldwide for its leading retail insight. With a core concentration on independent retailers and small businesses, Reyhle is a frequent guest and contributor to various media outlets that include The Today Show, Forbes and countless B2B publications. Additionally, Reyhle has been the spokesperson for American Express's Small Business Saturday since 2014 and is the author of the book Retail 101: The Guide to Managing and Marketing Your Retail Business from McGraw-Hill. Reyhle writes regularly as a retail thought leader for various industry resources that include Entrepreuner.com, Fiverr.com, Forbes, IBM and more, as well as having taught Retail Management at Columbia College for eight years as part of their adjunct faculty. Reyhle is also the Co-Founder of the Independent Retailer Conference. Learn more about Reyhle at RetailMinded.com.

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