It’s not what you know, it’s who uses it best…

Ok, I’m about to do something unpleasant. Something I promised myself I’d never do and yet something that is becoming more and more regular as I get older. I’m going to sound like my father! As somebody who simply cannot get his head around the fact that all our heads are stuck in phones all day long, I think he’d appreciate the following observation: maintaining relationships has never been harder because conversations have become text messages, arguments have become phone calls and feelings, mere status updates. Don’t get me wrong. Technology has greatly improved business. It’s made transaction easier, information widely available and (some) brands more accessible. However, there are some businesses that have been quick to use technology for their own needs but ignored the needs of their customers. Auto-replies on social media, computers answering phones and the constant push to have less and less face-to-face interaction in store, are having a huge affect on something that was once the cornerstone of business – loyalty. And like when any relationship starts to break down, you have to go back to basics, study what makes the other person special and get to know one another all over again.

Name, gender, address, birth date, purchasing history – it’s just data. Random facts and figures that don’t mean anything, thrown into a big spreadsheet used by a retail marketing agency. But data is only data until it is used. Then it becomes information. And when used well, information can become gold. What you know about your customers can help you build a loyalty base with them. If it’s correctly studied, it shows them that you understand them and if correctly harnessed, it can lead to their devotion. And if nothing else, it simply shows that you’ve bothered to acknowledge them – and in this day and age that is a surprise to many shoppers.

*Sounding like dad alert* The funny thing is we used to know everything about our shoppers because we were usually the only butcher, baker or general store in the neighbourhood. People enjoyed going down to their ‘local’ and would sometimes take 20 minutes to buy milk because they’d be chatting away to the shopkeeper. Rural towns still enjoy this level of interaction but it’s in the bigger cities, with the bigger store choice, that a lot of them have forgotten even the simplest form of relationship building – just saying hello. Even something as small as knowing your customers’ names so you can greet them when they come into your store can lead to them coming back a second time. Take hotels for instance. Any worth their salt will greet people at the front desk by name once they get it from the system. I once knew a hotel manager that kept a little black book of all his best regulars. He was able to welcome guests by name, wish spouses a happy anniversary, surprise children with birthday cakes, serve granny her brandy just the way she likes it and even leave a favoured room free every special occasion. Now ask yourself which hotel you’d be likely to return to time after time – this place or one that can’t even remember something like a peanut allergy? Ok, you might not need this level of information and people aren’t willing to part with info as easily as they once were, but how can you turn data into information in order to turn customers into loyal fans? Here’s a couple of tips:

Get the information…

Have you any way of recording who buys what and when? Do you have a little black book of interesting facts about them? If you have online ecommerce capabilities, are you ever contacting your audience or is it just a one-way thing? If not, then you or your retail marketing agency, should! Start building up a database, even if it’s just an Excel spreadsheet of birthday dates. There are a host of good CMS platforms out there (including free open-source ones) that can help. The most important thing to ensure is that you don’t breach data-security laws and you always protect the information you are given freely.

… then use it well.

How many times have you been asked to provide your details to a brand and then never heard from them again? I bet it’s a lot. Unfortunately they run competitions, ask for email addresses and build up a database… then stop. They think it’s enough to have the data but they never do anything with it. The first step is uncovering your customers’ needs, wants and desires. Then it’s up to you to surprise and delight them. Reward your most regular shoppers: ‘buy 10 coffees get the 11th free’? Incentivise repeat purchasing: ‘earn points with every purchase’. Celebrate special occasions: ‘20% off on your birthday”. If you’ve got their email address, drop them an email with a special offer. Whatever you do, do something! If they’ve been good enough to open up to you and provide you with a personal detail like a name or email address, don’t ignore it.

Remember, every relationship is a relationship!

The 21st century has turned customers into computer code. Unfortunately too many brands have stopped looking at people as customers and started seeing them as sales targets – once they’re hit who cares who’s hitting them. If you are serious about building loyalty amongst your customer base, start thinking of the business relationship as a personal relationship. Start off by treating it like a date. You spend the entire time trying to get to know the other person, so that next time you can impress them. After a few dates, make sure you never stop appreciating them! Keep them coming back for more, until they can’t imagine going anywhere else.

Loyalty cards and campaigns

Loyalty cards are one of the best ways to enhance customer loyalty. That’s not to say that by simply having one, people will flock to your store… but if having a loyalty card is worth it, it will greatly help your chances. They can be expensive and need a carefully thought out business plan but you only have to look at the fact that every airline has them, the big credit card companies are falling over each other to partner with brands that push their product and a lot of cunning customers are winning out with free travel, petrol, shopping and other such bonuses. I’ve written before about the standard-setting loyalty programme of Tesco and their creative marketing agencies. They have used the simply massive amount of information they have on their shoppers to help them become the leading supermarket in the United Kingdom. Food for thought!

Loyalty can help you spot potentially fatal trends

Kodak went from having an unassailable lead over their competitors in the photography-imaging field to nearly folding in just over 10 years. Many experts put it down to one thing – their arrogant dismissal of the potential popularity of digital photography (ironically something they invented). Studying your customers’ purchasing habits can help you spot likely adoption curves, potentially getting you ahead of the competition.

If you don’t have the capability, use something that does.

Not everyone reading this will have the tools, budget or time to implement the recommendations we’ve made here. But like I said, knowledge is a big part of loyalty and there is one brand that knows every thing, about every one. Facebook is making the GDP of a small country every single day based on their targeted ads. They posses an unrivalled knowledge about their users, allowing them to create ads that are directly relevant to the person viewing them. I’m a sucker for this. I like silver surf watches. Facebook know this. They tell Amazon. And Amazon keep sending me posts on Facebook with discounts off my favourite brands. I know they’re manipulating me but once I feel it’s worth it, I don’t mind.

Improving customer loyalty is a complex business. I could write a million posts about it. In fact, I’ll post another one in a few weeks about why loyalty isn’t always guaranteed. In the meantime, have a think if there are any little ways you might make your brand a more pleasant one to engage with. It could even start right now by simply saying hello to the next person that walks through your door.