Customer loyalty 101: How to avoid alienating today's shopper

May 8, 2017

Photo source: iStock.com

By Narina Sippy, CMO, Stellar Loyalty

Winning customer loyalty is a continuous and important objective for retailers, but it's not always an easy task. Unfortunately, alienating customers can be. Several principles apply if you want to avoid exasperating your customers (and there are fantastic examples of brands who are getting customer loyalty right).

Enable frictionless and meaningful interactions at all touch points

A customer expects a consistent "conversation" with brands across all communication channels.The conversation may start on your website, move to social media (think customer reviews), ideally involve points and rewards via a mobile app, and may continue at a future point in your store. Everything needs to remain consistent; there is nothing more frustrating than finding one set of content, offers or products via one channel and not another.

In a 2016 study by IBM Watson, 96 percent of respondents said that consistent retailer performance was important to maintain their trust in the retailer. And with digital — and mobile — representing more and more of our shopping experiences, it's critical for retailers to master those mediums or risk turning off their base (especially millennials). The study also showed that "mobile shoppers accounted for a record 34 percent of all 2015 Black Friday sales," which is an incredible statistic. Unfortunately, according to 2016 research published by Forrester, "very few companies are communicating effectively over mobile messaging." 

One retailer that does offer a sleek and sophisticated mobile experience is Bloomingdale's, whose Brown Bag mobile app allows users to view products easily online, place orders and/or select the store where they want to pick up the items. Shoppers can become a "loyalist" through the app and take advantage of points to receive discounts. And the retailer is constantly adding helpful features such as the new In-Store Guide which features store directories, upcoming promotional events and the ability to scan products in-store from one's phone.

Make the right technology investments

The key to a successful digital and mobile presence is having the back end to fully support that side of the business. Although many retailers have mastered the physical retail world, in their rush to blend the physical with digital many have stumbled.

Digital ordering doesn't always keep up with real-world inventory. The worst thing a mobile app can do is to confirm an order when an item is out of stock. Or imagine your customer confirms a pick up in-store on the website, and the item isn't there when they arrive? That person is going to leave incredibly frustrated, which is more than just a bad customer experience. It's a missed opportunity because the IBM report tell us 71 percent of people are likely to purchase additional items in the store when picking up their online purchase.

Digital receipts are becoming a standard; are you ready to offer them?  Not only is it more environmentally friendly, customers know it won't get lost.  Think about Apple — nothing purchased in an Apple store ever comes with a piece of paper. From the moment you step into the Apple store your end-to-end experience is always optimized, combining the physical environment with the digital world. The lines that form outside Apple stores across the nation are a testament to this well-conceived customer experience.

Convenience is the new currency

Customers want flexibility in where, when and how they communicate with a brand, and they want their preferred brand to reward them. Today they can shop anywhere — online, in retail stores, or through a mobile app, and many are starting to appreciate the convenience and ease of receipt scanning to tie together these different worlds.

As part of the Harlequin My Rewards program, members can scan their book receipts anytime using their mobile devices for loyalty points, which allows the publisher to learn more about its readers, as well as to collaborate more effectively with its retail partners. Lucy Scinocca, director of loyalty and customer experience, said "we made sure this program was mobile first. Our readers are very busy taking care of family, and spending time with social groups and her community, so it was very important that the program was easily accessible to her no matter where she is."

Turn a potential negative experience into a positive one

Tell your customer they're important in ways that matter to them. For example, if a customer gets stuck on a long wait time to be seated at your restaurant, apologize and offer them a coupon or other reward for their next visit before they complain. This is a great way to turn an alienating experience around.

In fact, CRM expert Denis Pombriant, Beagle Research Group, says that by just "acknowledging a problem before the customer points it out —  whether or not you offer some kind of thank you reward — isn't just good business, it's also a great way to engage the customer. My research shows that quite often customers want to feel taken care of, even if nothing is going wrong. When you have an opportunity to demonstrate your attentiveness to customers, do it."

Decide how you can delight your customers; worry less about alienating them

Spend more time delighting your customers and you'll have to worry a lot less. Turn everyday purchases into something fun through interactive games, trivia questions, selfies, social challenges and augmented reality. Entertaining digital and mobile experiences will create positive brand association, guest engagement and even user-generated content for further marketing and branded experiences.

When the Kansas Lottery rolled out its new loyalty program this year, the lottery delighted its existing and new players by offering a special drawing for those who signed up early through its early Early Adopter Program. Winners received a $50 coupon for lottery tickets, giving them more chances to do what they like best — win!

Ultimately, think like a customer. Using that lens is the best way to avoid alienating your base, and better yet, to engender loyalty.


Topics: Consumer Behavior, Customer Experience, Customer Service, Loyalty Programs, Marketing, Retail - General

Companies: Stellar Loyalty


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