In times of austerity, customer loyalty comes to the fore. For most retail businesses, the top 20 per cent of customers provides the most profit and also covers losses incurred in dealing with less loyal customers. With budgets remaining low, it's one of the only ways to compete with rivals without having to forfeit revenue.
However, any loyalty-based strategy should be less about price and more about a tailored programme that gives individual customers something they want and value. This will stop them from turning into discount-focused purchasers.
Introducing deeper customer engagement across all touch points will help achieve this and, in turn, increase customer profitability, thanks to longer relationships and lower ongoing account management costs.
The traditional way to stay close to customers is an account manager methodology. A dedicated individual maintains a consistent, insightful relationship with a client. But what if this key member of staff leaves the business?
The solution is to weave a network of contacts, offering trusted connections at multiple points in the business. Like velcro: if one link is broken, the contact remains and still supports the related entities.
Time pressures and the rise of the here-and-now generation mean that clients often demand instantaneous replies via emails, that relationships are managed in databases, and that transactions are completed online. The days of face-to-face meetings look numbered. However, this is one of the simplest ways to build up your network of contacts.
While quick replies may equal great service, customers will not get an affinity for a business if they're always dealt with through a spreadsheet or an order form.
And introducing customers to a range of team members encourages more collaboration and can spark ideas for creative approaches to problems. This helps to reassure customers that long-term goals are understood by the whole business – not just an individual.
One way to get around the issue of time pressures and lack of face-to-face contact is to embrace social media such as LinkedIn, which can help employees develop contact with customers. Keep communication regular, and keep it relevant.
Using micro-blogging platforms such as Twitter can also engage customers in conversation and spark debate, enabling a business to stand out as a thought leader in the market, adding value and expertise.
This can help develop your brand and demonstrate the engagement you have with customers. But don't contact customers just for the sake of it – or they might switch off very quickly.
Good old-fashioned networking can be something that drops off the to-do list when you're busy, particularly when times are tough and every effort is being dedicated to pure sales pushes.
Networking helps showcase employees in the business and gives a more rounded picture of the company. If a networking event arises for a sales team, taking members of the supply chain team may open up opportunities and grow that side of the business.
Take the time to identify any particularly strong or weak customer relationships. If the relationship is flourishing and customers are loyal, think about cross-selling and up-selling opportunities.
If a relationship is weak, think about ways in which it could be improved. Ask whether enough value is being added and if the communication is working.
Think about how to grow relationships at every level. Don't exclude entry-level staff as they may be able to help to shape the confidence in, and reliability of, ongoing service. And as they progress through your company, relationships for life may be built.
Compelling relevant knowledge will enable businesses to develop targeted, effective promotions and long-term strategies. Combine this with strength of service and with motivated employees who understand and are passionate about helping customers succeed, giving customers a reason to stay with you.
With the rise in European online resellers offering next-day delivery, the idea of being a local provider looks set to die out.
Partner businesses will have to fight even harder to retain long-term customer bases. It is essential to stay at the front of customers' minds and ensure your offering is compelling.
Phil Jones is UK sales and marketing director at Brother
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