Four essential steps for acquiring and retaining today's connected customer

June 5, 2011

You are an aggressive, successful retailer. You have extensive experience in your category. Customers are your highest priority.

Yesterday, this was enough to assure your continued success. But today, it's not.

Globalization and technology are transforming retail customers at a velocity never before experienced. This is why your store or brand is exposed to a profound change in your customers' buying behavior and why this change will intensify at a rapid pace.

This is why the purchasing habits of online retail customers and offline retail customers are now identical. Today's customers do their homework online whether they buy from a site or a store.

This is why your prospects know what they want to buy, where they can buy it, and what they want to pay.

This is why you must change and keep changing the way you think and work:

  • Before the relentless, twin engines-of-change force you to change;
  • Before your business loses its momentum;
  • Before competition leaps ahead of your company or brand.

To make matters even more challenging, retailers of every type and size are now confronted by a multitude of influences over which they have absolutely no control.

You have no control over today's geopolitical events; however, they are having a substantial effect on your business as documented by this partial list of global forces:

  • National and international financial crises
  • Commodity price/availability – manipulated by conventional market forces as well as cartels, cabals, and speculators
  • Currency fluctuations generated by traditional market forces as well as nations, regions, and speculators
  • Natural disasters, industrial calamities, and destructive accidents
  • Political discord, governmental upheavals, rebellions, religious, ethnic, political, border conflicts and wars
  • Rapid rise of developing nations and stagnation of developed nations
  • Organized crime and terrorism

You have no control of the rapid acceleration of technological development; however, ever-newer, ever-faster hardware and software are the principal facilitators of your customers' empowerment, as the following timeline illustrates:

  • Internet was commercialized just 16 years ago
  • Mobile phone with internet connectivity was launched just 15 years ago
  • Google named the search engine of choice by PC magazine named just 13 years ago
  • Blackberry, now ubiquitous, launched in America just 10 years ago
  • Facebook, launched just 7 years ago, has more than 600 million active users today
  • Twitter, launched just 5 years ago, has over 200 million users and generates 65 million tweets a day
  • iPhone, the first of the smartphones, was released just 4 years ago
  • Groupon, introduced just 3 years ago, now serves up its deal-of-the-day group coupons in most major markets worldwide
  • New apps, tailored to users' specific needs, are introduced almost every minute of every day

Given all the changes in today's and tomorrow's retail sector that you cannot control, you must introduce the essential changes in your business over which you have total control.

What follows are four fundamental changes that will enable your retail enterprise to recruit and retain today's aggressive, often-ruthless customers:

  1. Acknowledge that your prospects and customers have a wide choice of retailers in your category — develop a comprehensive strategy to differentiate your brand or stores and implement the strategy with rigor and discipline. You don’t have to be bigger or better than competition, but you do have to be different.
  2. Understand the new-found knowledge, determination, and authority of your prospects and customers — train your organization to respect, engage, and secure these confident "new experts." You can either influence your customer’s entire purchase experience with your firm, or you can, as all too many retailers do, just let it happen.
  3. Recognize that converting your customers into repeat buyers, advocates, and referrals is essential to the enduring, profitable growth of every retailer — establish and monitor metrics to enforce continuous improvement in conversion at every decisive customer moment. Stop costly customer churn and optimize profits by concentrating your resources on consistent conversion and retention.
  4. Accept the reality that "customer loyalty," after a long, persistent decline, is no longer a factor in purchase decisions and realize that many customers no longer care where or from which retailer they buy — align your entire organization to assure that your firm is relentlessly creating "customer preference" for your brand or stores. In a world without customer loyalty, you can still be first choice.

Today's retailers must be out in front of the turbulent wakes of globalization and technology and embrace tomorrow's strategies today.

Robert H. Bloom is the author of "The New Experts" and "The Inside Advantage." As U.S. Chairman and CEO of Publicis Worldwide, he helped craft and implement the growth strategies of some of the world's largest companies and brands, including BMW, L'Oréal, Nestlé, Southwest Airlines, T-Mobile, and Novartis' Theraflu and Triaminic. (Photo by Byron Villegas.)

Topics: Consumer Behavior , Customer Experience , Customer Service , Marketing , Social Media , Technology

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