Points banking and rewards are powerful customer loyalty tools, but they’re not a silver bullet. Using rewards is an effective customer loyalty mechanic, and it’s often something customers expect and enjoy, but it’s not everything.
However, no business can rely on rewards alone for customer loyalty.
Even with the rewards squared away, your business still has a lot of work to do on customer loyalty. Your business has to take responsibility for doing all the little day-to-day things we can’t do for you.
When you put rewards and points banking on top of the solid approach to customer loyalty we outline here, you’ll find it much easier to keep your customers coming back.
This blog will take you through what customer loyalty connoisseurs do to maintain customer loyalty.
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1. Customer loyalty means meeting expectations
Satisfying expectation goes a long to keeping customers loyal. And we don’t just mean making sure your products are great – we expect you’re already doing that.
Take, for instance, the email that gets sent after a customer makes a purchase from your website, or books a boiler service. Whatever your sector is, you will have the equivalent.
It’s a small gesture, but it’s become so common for online orders it’s almost mandatory. Failing to send the email after an order could easily cause customers anxiety, or look unprofessional. And it can make them feel like you’re not recognising their business.
We’re all beholden to expectations
Like we say, it’s only one little email, but it’s expected, and failing to meet expectations won’t compel customers to keep putting their trust in your business.
There are potentially hundreds of these minor flash-points, and other major ones, where falling short of expectation will hurt the way your customers see your company. Customers expect you to understand their needs, and anticipate their expectations.
And among the many things the modern customer expects, which we’ll outline next, is that you’re easy to deal with.
2. Friction and frustration need to go
Patience may be a virtue, but we don’t recommend putting your customers’ to the test.
We now live in a world where you can push a button and a complicated nation-wide machine of logistics kicks into action to put a frying on your doorstep within 18 hours.
Immediacy and convenience have conditioned the attitude of the modern consumer. To meet their expectations, your business needs to minimise anything that might feel like an unreasonable delay or frustration.
It’s not just your ordering processes
That applies to almost everything about your company’s processes. To be clear, we’re not saying your business needs to be completely be perfect to keep your customers.
What we are saying is that you need to make sure you never make your customers suffer enough such unreasonable inconvenience that it offsets the value of your product or service.
That might mean:
- Having a broad selection of payment options
- Cleaning up a confusing support portal
- Introducing a better search function
- Making sure frontline support staff have industry-specific knowledge for clients
- Being physically difficult to reach
- Not keeping stock that customers expect to find in your store
- Getting rid of hidden fees and putting all prices up front
- Better education staff on your products and services
There are many other frustrations, depending on your sector, that prompt customers to go elsewhere. By smoothing out the friction and frustrations that haunt just about every businesses, you let your customers enjoy the things you do so well.
Your customers must enjoy the simplest routes to finding, buying and enjoying your products. Rather than being put off by niggles, hitches and difficulties.
When, inevitably, customers do encounter a problem, they’re going to get in touch with you. And as we’ll detail now, how you respond could be the difference between keeping and losing their business.
3. Care for customers if you care about customer loyalty
Customer service now is more than just the quality of the care you can give, it’s the availability of that care. Brands have to be there for customers in the places where customers need and expect them. Make sure your support is easy to reach, fast to react, and easy to understand.
As many as 78% of consumers have abandoned a transaction because of poor customer service. That’s a completely preventable loss of income and loyalty.
Perhaps unfortunately, embracing that dogma means accepting a blurring of the frontline of customer service.
If you have a Twitter account, a Facebook page or a LinkedIn page, they are now customer service portals. It doesn’t matter if you don’t consider them to be customer service entry points, your customers will.
The best in the business are changing the world around you
It might sound unreasonable and inconvenient to you, but that’s the social of social media. If you want your message to be heard, you have to be able to take one back as well.
What’s more, those brands that do customer care well on social media have shifted consumer demand. The quality of care that consumers now expect from all brands has been raised.
They’re doing it so well, you now have to catch up or risk diminishing your own customer loyalty by prompting abandons.
Then, when your customers do get in touch, they expect:
Even if you choose to use your social media channels to funnel customers in need of help back into your phones or website, these values are what need to be waiting for them when they get there.
And when you do have to talk to your customers while they’re having a problem, you need to be honest with them. We’ll explain why now.
4. Be honest, even when you think you won’t benefit from it
If we’re talking customer loyalty, we’re talking long term. And if we’re talking long term, we’re talking about being honest. It’s totally unreasonable to expect to lie to a customer, and it’s even more unreasonable to expect to get away with it for any real period of time.
As soon as a customer realises you’ve been anything less than honest, the name of your brand will turn to ashes in their mouth. Being honest and up front is the only way to prevent that and keep them loyal.
What’s more, being honest even when you don’t stand to directly gain from that honesty can improve the way a customer sees you in the long run. That could be when you make a mistake and have to face the music. Or it could just be when you have to be honest and admit your company isn’t right for their needs.
Honestly attracts quality
In other blogs we’ve talked about how it’s important to attract quality customers. It’s also important not to create bad ones by shoe-horning your product into their lives where it doesn’t fit. Doing so will have negative consequences further down the line.
Not only does your product fail to meet the customers’ needs, they’ll have a hard time using it. Which means they’re going to rely on your support systems to force the issue through.
That’s a poor use of your time and resources. Even worse, it drains the overall level of quality customer service you can offer to other clients. Which as we discussed above is an important area for customer loyalty.
The client also isn’t going to be as likely to come back to a supplier whose products they don’t have faith in. And they’re unlikely to say good things about your business to their peers, who might also be using your company’s services in other areas.
The truth will set you free, as the saying goes, from having to deal with these consequences. The short-term gain isn’t off-set by the long term negative consequences.
That said, just because you’re avoiding negative sentiments, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be spreading positive ones, too.
5. Communication builds connection with customers
We’re all busy (if you’re not, what’s your secret?!), and we forget about things that don’t affect us every day. If you’re not the kind of brand that a customer interacts with daily, or weekly, you need to find a way to stay in touch. Keep your name alive in the minds of your audience by putting yourself in front of them.
Your company, your occupation, takes centre stage in your own world. It affects you constantly. So you have to be honest about just how likely you are to fall out of someone’s consciousness after they’ve dealt with you.
In a world where there’s more information, more stimulation, more choice than ever, it’s completely reasonable to assume customers will forget your brand and your content. It’s not something to take personally. But like we said, you have to be honest with yourself about it.
Look on the bright side and act positively
The good news is you have control and can take action yourself. Talk to customers outside of your usual sales cycles, and demonstrate that you’ve had thoughts about them that go beyond how next to extract cash from them.
Depending on what your company does, it might be advice on dealing with a legislative change in your sector or helpful content on getting the most out of your products.
In doing this, you’re taking the chance to show you value and think about your customers, and put your company back in their minds. This will have two effects.
First, customers are more likely to remember your company, and they’re more likely to attach positive sentiment to your company.
Second, when they need your services, you’re more likely to be the brand they turn to, having already established your credibility and trust.
While it’s valuable to make sure you generally stay active in your customers’ minds, more targeted and personal communication is also valuable.
6. Use data, track behaviour, and act on it
Track behaviour, measure it, and predict it. Then, when you see a significant deviation from their usual behaviour, get in touch. We’ll run you through a quick scenario to demonstrate how this feeds back into customer loyalty.
Hypothetically, you sell fertiliser. And your client, that usually orders quarterly, hasn’t been in touch. They might have a cash-flow hiccup, and you could extend credit to keep their corn growing. Your usual contact might have left the business suddenly or fallen ill, and their replacement doesn’t have your details.
Any number of circumstances might have affected that phone call you expect every quarter. And there are myriad ways you might be helpful in that situation. But you won’t know until you ask, and you can’t know when to ask until you start measuring and analysing behaviour.
People notice proactivity
By reaching out and asking what’s going on, you are proactive. They don’t have to come to you with the problem. And by extending a helping hand, you become more than a fertiliser supplier, you’re someone that helped keep their farm going during a tricky period.
The kind of loyalty generated by this kind of personal attention almost can’t be bought – you have to earn it by building relationships. It’s a dramatic example, we’ll admit. But it’s very plausible as well. For instance, up to 78% of UK SMEs are having cash flow troubles. Your empathy could make all the difference.
The example we gave here is one where being proactive can help build your customers’ business and build their loyalty. However, your whole brand should be working to be a more positive aspect of your customers’ lives.
7. Fit into, and amplify, lifestyles and workstyles
That also means flexibility. One of the most common rhetorical questions in the face of frustration is, “Why can’t you just….” Sometimes what comes after those four words is completely unreasonable, but it’s worth listening.
There was a time when asking, “Why can’t you just get it to me tomorrow?” was unreasonable question, until Amazon made it reasonable over the course of a couple of short years.
This is just as important when your audience is people at work. You can’t afford to be any kind of a detriment to how your customers go about their work. To generate customer loyalty, bring value to the way someone goes about their life, not just the narrow confines of your product.
Make your products rewarding to use
Turn other parts of your business, physically and digitally, into something that adds real value. For instance a client of ours, a security alarm company, has their rewards portal double-up as a product knowledge and support hub.
This makes their customers’ lives easier, improves the quality of your customer’s work with the client, and rewards the user for sticking with the brand. Other retailers use their physical space as a destination for community and learning, or for lifestyle promotions. It’s up to you and your company to create that value for your own customers.
On top of all that, once you’re a part of your customer’s work or lifestyle, you need to contribute to their values system as well.
8. Justify customer loyalty by exemplifying their values
It’s never been more apparent that our consumption habits affect the world around us. Even if you didn’t want the news, brands are making their ethical credentials part of their sales pitch.
That isn’t likely to slow down, either. Whether it’s carbon, human rights, animal rights or plastic, we’re likely to see a world where consumers take more and more care about who they buy from. In turn, every industry will feel more pressure to stand up to ethical scrutiny when attracting and retaining business.
Lush, the popular cosmetics company, bases a big part of their business around their ethical considerations. And it’s been a hit with consumers, with their reputation improving and sales improving year-on-year despite losing money last year.
But not everyone has the luxury, if you choose to see it as one, of being an ethics-focused business.
Its not up to you to save the world
We’re not insisting you have to save the planet on your own. However, customers will be more attracted to companies that contribute to the world they want to see. But if you make a completely digital product, what more could your actual product do to help the environment than switching your energy tariff?
Where you can’t do the most obviously ethical things, you need to know your customers and what’s happening in their world. Without putting all of the planet’s problems on your own back, you can find areas that your customers care about and affect them.
For instance, if you were a digitally focused company, you might make sure you have robust data controls for users. You might sign up to voluntary gender recruiting and pay standards. You might offset your energy use with tree-planting or carbon capture. If you’re not sure what moves the needle for your customers, ask. As we’ll discuss below, you two-way communication is important.
9. Seek opinions and advice, and listen
Ask your customers what’s going on with your products and how they feel about them. What they like, what they use it for, how they enjoy it. And then use those responses.
Having a voice, and having it heard, is important to everyone. It’s validating and encouraging to be listened to and taken seriously. And when you have a hand in shaping the future of a product, you’re more likely to feel invested in sticking with it.
Make following up a regular part of your company’s communication strategy. Ask how they’re fairing with your product, what they’re doing with it, and how you could improve that experience in the future.
As we’ve pointed out, none of us can afford to persevere with difficult, cumbersome products and processes. We have to streamline and reduce customer friction, in how customer access products and how they use them.
Listening is good for building relationships with your customers. Make sure they’re heard.
Do this when customers leave, too
You might not be able to claw business back once it’s gone, but you can learn from it. Try to ask customer why they left your company so you can learn from their decision.
This could be:
- An “exit interview” when a customer calls in to cancel a subscription
- An emailed question if the customer buys online and indicates they’re moving on
- A question on a market research survey of your competitors’ customers
Use whatever touchpoints you have at your disposal when a customer is negotiating their exit from your company’s services and products.
Maybe that customer will never come back even if you change the things that made them leave. But you will still gain valuable intelligence on what’s making customers leave and take action to prevent any more defections.
10. Customer loyalty rests on your brand’s reputation
Famously, the UK has some of the most stringent libel and slander laws in the West. Those laws originate from a sincere belief that a person’s reputation is of paramount concern. Your company’s reputation is also a massive driving factor in customer loyalty.
Customers won’t want to be seen to do buy from a company that’s seen in a negative light in public.
Not only is it important, you also have to be proactive in managing it. The harmless act of Googling your company’s name to find your website can be a reputation risk if you don’t take care of how your brand is presented online.
As many as 90% of customers read an online review before they visit a business. That means it’s vital to protect how you appear in those searches. Negative news coverage, user reviews, and social media are all out there. Even good old-fashioned word of mouth is out there for you.
Switching is easy, especially for someone buying FMCG products. They just grab something else the next time they go to the store. At the very least you need to be monitoring reviews, using Google alerts to monitor press coverage, and monitoring social media for complaints. That way you can get out ahead of the negative opinions a bit.
Reputation shifts can be quick and deadly
A truly legendary example of a shift in reputation destroying customer loyalty is Gerald Ratner, former chief executive of Ratners Group, currently Signet Group. Ratner was asked how his company could offer their products at such a low price, and responded: “Because it’s total cr*p.”
Ratners Group customers fled from the brand, nearly driving the company into collapse and forcing the company to change its name to deflect the negative connotations to their name.
Clearly, we don’t anticipate that you’re going to call the press tomorrow and make such a whopping gaffe yourself. But at the time he said it, Ratner didn’t believe he was dealing his company a killing blow. If he did, he wouldn’t have said it.
It’s more likely that he intended his honesty to be refreshing and sincere. But it was taken by his customers as an insult. And they responded to the insult by wiping £500 million off the value of Ratners Group.
By making customers feel like they were being duped or cheated, Ratners Group nearly lost everything. You can, however, show your customers that you value them by taking the time to recognise them. We’ll describe that below.
11. Build customer loyalty with customer recognition
We believe in the power that employee recognition has to build positive relationships between employees and their work, colleagues and employer.
The same should extend to your customers too. Make an effort to recognise customers to keep them close to your company. Not just big spenders, either. It’s crass just to focus on how much money your customers can give you, and they’re smart enough to see through that kind of thing.
When you ask your customers what they’re doing with your products and how they’re using them, look for any particularly good stories. Or customers that are getting the best out of your products, using them the way you wish every customer would use them.
Show you care about your customers, your products and that you don’t take them for granted. In private and in public. Highlight your recognition of your customers on social media, email, websites, or whatever medium you can use best to access your customers.
As usual, it’s over to you
Rewards and point banking are a vital tool to help you build customer loyalty. That’s why we have a system that specialises in just that.
That said, your customers need something to attach themselves to, something to be invested in. Your business needs to turn itself into a company where customer loyalty is earned by your everyday behaviour, and secured with great rewards.