By Greg Gatherer, Account Manager at Liferay
In today’s competitive world, brand loyalty is no longer a guarantee for digital businesses. Customers are increasingly making purchases based on the experience that companies offer, rather than on the products or the prices. This means that customer experience has become a major differentiator for digital businesses.
Companies must find innovative ways to distinguish their offerings through the entire customer lifecycle, including later stages that still have untapped opportunities for engagement.
Customer experience doesn’t end after purchase
People have grown accustomed to doing their own research on products before engaging with a brand. Key findings from a Gartner customer experience survey show that 82% of smartphone users consult their phones before they make a purchase in-store. This means that the opportunities a company has to influence customers in the early stages of the customer lifecycle are being cut down.
But there are still ample opportunities to reach out to new customers post-purchase and continue to engage them as a way of preparing them for the next purchase with your company. Research has shown that existing customers are both easier to sell to and more profitable than new customers.
Rather than focusing on narrowing opportunities to influence new customers, businesses should find ways to nurture their existing customers, ultimately turning them into advocates that will come back to purchase again and again.
Changes in customer loyalty
If existing customers are so profitable, why do businesses neglect them in favor of new customers? Often, the answer comes down to the changing nature of customer loyalty and how difficult it is to turn people into repeat customers.
Companies used to be able to develop lifelong brand loyalty in their customers through big campaigns or traditional loyalty programs. The idea of lifelong brand fans meant that loyalty was defined as buying solely from that brand— like a staunch supporter of Coca-Cola that refused to drink Pepsi.
Now, it is incredibly easy for customers to switch brands, and they don’t hesitate to exert that right. Millennials will cite anything from poor customer experience to feeling that a brand no longer fits their identity as reasons for moving on from a previously favourite brand. Experiences are what earn customers’ loyalty today, and businesses will need to adjust their strategies in order to account for this reality. The more information and differentiators companies are able to offer with their experiences, the more loyal customers will be.
These four strategies will help you focus your efforts on engaging your existing customers in a way that creates loyalty for your brand.
1. Collect the right data
Companies need to collect information that is actionable, not just interesting. There’s no value in asking customers to give up personal details if that data cannot be analysed for new ways to advance your business. Companies would do better to focus on tracking behaviours that give them a better understanding of their customers.
With detailed insight, companies can choose to alert store reps, confirm product availability before customers show up, offer free delivery if they give online purchasing a try, or send a reminder that, if the customer comes in a day early, they’ll be able to take advantage of the store’s annual sale. These are the kinds of detailed insights that differentiate experiences, the way a mom and pop shop would be able to simply by familiarity with its customers.
2. Go beyond segmenting
One of the benefits of refocusing on engaging existing customers is that you have an opportunity to gain deeper insights by continuing to collect and analyse data over time. Track the way customer behavior changes throughout repeat purchases, and use that to inform the experience you’re creating for new customers. Eventually, you should also be able to use this data to more accurately identify who your top customers are, and what it is that keeps them consistently engaged with your company.
3. Turn service culture into a process
Great customer experience often comes down to a story about exceptional one-on-one employee-customer interactions.
Part of great customer experience is maintaining consistency across interactions through the use of technology. Take a local coffee shop as an example; if its customers pay through a mobile app, the store will automatically have a record of their usual orders. If that information is shared with the POS system when the customer walks into the store, then it doesn’t matter if they come at a different time of day or go to a different location — the cashier still knows their usual order. Customers have access to the same great experience, and it’s consistent for all customers, instead of being dependent on the regular cashier remembering a customer’s face and preferences.
4. Integrate loyalty initiatives into your digital strategy
The goal of focusing on existing customers is still to drive profit through excellent service, and that might look different than a traditional loyalty programme. Companies need to assess the success of loyalty initiatives within the context of their entire digital strategy, rather than assuming loyalty programs will be profitable on their own.
The future of customer experience
As new digital channels open up, companies will need to be prepared to manage data in a way that eliminates noise and focuses on valuable insights that can enhance the customer experience. Digital leaders are focusing heavily on transforming their companies so that their technology solutions are part of a unified platform. Business systems need to be able to tap into the many disparate touchpoints customers are interacting with and process that data quickly and efficiently. The future of customer experience depends on taking this detailed customer knowledge to scale, and using that to consistently deliver personalised experiences at the individual level. Data not only matters, it is thought to be among the most precious assets most organisations have.