What earns loyalty in the local businesses?

For a long time, independent, local business owners have been using loyalty programs to keep customers coming back. This worked in the beginning but over the last few years, the engagement of customers using traditional loyalty programs has been on the decline.

This is because the initial definition of loyalty has changed. Customers are no longer excited about a few dollars off when loyalty points are redeemed. What customers want and expect is brand experiences that are seamless, compelling and personalized. Also, the focus can no longer be on transactions only. The loyalty game has also changed with the boom of e-commerce where shopping is done online rather than in a store.

In today's competitive market that includes the virtual shopper, loyalty programs need to be a central engagement hub. The goal should be to create a community for customers that incorporates the in-store and virtual shopper. Retailers need to take an omnichannel approach that covers everyone.

Good and bad customer experiences

Winning customer loyalty begins not with offering rewards but ensuring that both in-store and virtual customers have a positive experience with your brand or business. Shop staff or virtual support staff who are rude, unhelpful or who take too long to respond can put off existing and potential customers. They don't want a reward if they first have to deal with people who agitate rather than help them.

As technology such a social media has developed, it is even easier to ensure customers have a positive experience that would turn them into loyal customers. You can ensure that you have people to respond to every question or comment immediately.

You can't help negative comments and reviews, but you can respond to them so that those who come across them can see that you do keep up with your customers and that you do reach out and offer solutions and assistance when a customer has a negative encounter with your brand or business. That can sway the purchasing decision of a buyer in your favor and keep the customers you have loyal.

Strategies for building customer loyalty

While there aren't any silver-bullet solutions to optimizing customer loyalty, there are effective strategies you can employ;

  • List the precise goals you want to accomplish with your loyalty program; do you want to come up with a program that will be used to sell yourself to potential customers, to retain existing customers, or both?
  • Take a second look at the loyalty programs that are currently in place from the view of whether they are working to keep customers coming back and/or attract new ones or have customers become uninterested and inactive about their loyalty program membership?
  • Understand what your customers want and expect from you; what do they value? You will find that it is not so much loyalty points but timely, courteous and positive interactions whether in-store or online.
  • Keep customers engaged with emails about special offers and deals, as well as newsletters that give them information they can use and want to share.
  • Get personal with messages or gifts on their special occasions like birthdays. The sign up information can give you details like birthdays and other personal occasions.

Widening your reach

Today's market has changed and customer loyalty strategies and programs have to change to keep up and work effectively.

  • Give rewards of experiences that customers will value. For instance, reward customers with discounted or fully paid tickets to a concert, a game, meal at family restaurant or dinner for two, or another positive, uplifting event they will remember you for.
  • There should always be someone to chat to customers online and to address the inquiries and complaints that come through social media or the website. Follow up until the customer gives a response that shows that the matter has been resolved to their satisfaction.
  • Put yourself to the test periodically through surveys. Offer rewards to your customers for every survey they complete. The goal is to get those who typically wouldn't take time to go online to leave a comment to tell you what they think about your brand. Offer loyalty points or cash off their next purchase, which not only gets you the evaluation you want but also keeps the customers coming back.
  • Create an app to make it easy and convenient for customers to interact with your brand and to keep up with all those who are constantly on their smartphones and mobile devices.
  • Get customers a personal helpline. A customer may want to inquire before making a purchase but finds it a hindrance to go online and start chatting or send an email and wait for a response. Make things easier for them by giving them the option of sending a message to a shortcode or a customer care number they can call day or night and get answered. You can hire virtual assistants to do this.

Case Study; The Disney Approach to Customer Loyalty

Disney is doing everything right when it comes to customer loyalty:

  • They are reaching out to customers with experiences, merchandise and they created a brand promise of "Entertainment with Heart" which guides everything they do.
  • They control their brand and deliver to the same high standard in the movies they put out, the experiences in their parks, and the merchandise they produce.
  • Treating their employees well and the staff passes it on to customers.
  • They know and understand their audience, and they come up with products to suit every market segment. Remaining engaged to customers with emails and newsletters and yes, loyalty rewards.

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