We all know that customer loyalty is important, particularly for small businesses.
Loyal customers offer repeat revenue, reduced acquisition costs and they’re often your very best source of marketing.
But loyalty, itself, is subjective; the debate rages on about the extent to which it’s created and guided by emotion, or logic.
The solution? For small businesses, increasingly, there’s an imperative to address both; giving your customers both emotional, and rational reasons to keep buying from you.
Try out these strategies to create loyalty in your business.
1. Loyalty Schemes
Loyalty schemes have been around forever, but they’re still on the rise. A recent RetailMeNot survey found that over half of U.S. retailers plan to offer loyalty programs to consumers in 2018 to positively affect sales growth.
Loyalty schemes are great because they offer a tangible reward to your most loyal customers. There’s a generational shift, here, too – apparently, 66.3% of Millennials are more likely to shop from stores where they’re part of the loyalty program, vs. only 33.3% of baby boomers. Small businesses operate in an era of unprecedented competition, and it’s important to seize this kind of advantage.
You may be worrying about the costs and ongoing work of managing a loyalty scheme. But the good news is that there are apps and platforms to do the heavy lifting for you. For physical businesses, check out an app like Loyalzoo. Using this app, customers can ‘check in’ to your local business. You then use your merchant app to award loyalty points with their purchase.
For online and eCommerce businesses, when it comes to loyalty – like most things – ‘there’s a Shopify plugin for that.’ Just search ‘loyalty’ and browse through the solutions to find the one that suits you best.
Many of these solutions, such as Bold’s ‘Loyalty Point’ offering, let users accumulate, and place orders, with their points.
2. Identify and Reduce friction
A recent Harvard Business Review study suggested that – while some brands do engender emotional feelings of loyalty – the majority of what we would call ‘brand loyalty’ is actually down to convenience and ease of purchasing. It suggests that we make the majority of our purchasing decisions based on past experience and whatever seems quickest and easiest.
“In short, research into the workings of the human brain suggests that the mind loves automaticity more than just about anything else—certainly more than engaging in conscious consideration. Given a choice, it would like to do the same things over and over again. If the mind develops a view over time that Tide gets clothes cleaner, and Tide is available and accessible on the store shelf or the web page, the easy, familiar thing to do is to buy Tide yet another time.” https://hbr.org/2017/01/customer-loyalty-is-overrated
What does this mean? Well, basically, customers want to keep buying the same thing – but if it’s hard work, they’ll go somewhere else. This makes it incredibly important for businesses to identify friction and pain points within the customer journey.
As always, your customers are your most honest and valuable sources of feedback, so consider rolling out a customer survey. A simple, one-question survey known as the Customer Effort Score is a great way to identify how your customers are feeling – and you can follow up for more qualitative feedback if necessary.
3. Go beyond product
While pricing and product quality will always be among the most important factors in any purchase decision, it’s also important to create a charismatic brand that people can buy into and feel part of. Without branding, all we have are millions of cookie-cutter companies offering almost identical products and services with no sense of warmth, affection or belonging behind any of the purchase decisions we make.
The old saying “Don’t sell the mattress, sell a good night’s sleep,” is right on the money. Brands aren’t just the packaging we wrap around physical products, but a set of values, and a world view. These things really do create a sense of connection to our customers. According to Sprout Social, two-thirds of consumers think it’s important for brands to take a public stance on social issues. Wunderman suggests that 56% of customers feel more loyal to brands who “get me” and show a deep understanding of their priorities and preferences, while 89% are loyal to brands that share their values.
So infuse your communications with your personality. Take a stance on issues that matter to you. And give your brand a set of personal characteristics – if it was a person, how would that person look like, sound, smell, act? What would they eat and drink? Where would they hang out, and what would they do? Don’t just make these decisions in a vacuum, live it; roll it out in the imagery and content that lives on your website.
4. Sell Branded Merchandise
When you have a brand that people care about and can invest in, selling your own merchandise is a great opportunity. You only have to look at people’s willingness to wear t-shirts branded with major soft drinks, coffee shops and fast-food restaurants to illustrate this opportunity.
Small, niche brands or products are just as likely to enjoy success through selling custom branded merchandise, thanks to the inherent cool factor of startups. Think about it; they’re often coming to market with something disruptive, and different – and big plans to get to the top. Consumers often latch onto these emerging brands; they want to be the person who ‘found’ a particular brand and knew about it first.
Giving your customers a physical piece of your brand to wear or enjoy is a great way to deepen a sense of emotional connection and loyalty.
But…merchandise? What about the up-front investment, the logistics and the ongoing hassle of fulfilling orders? Thanks to the emergence of print-on-demand solutions, businesses (and individuals) can set up product ranges with far less headache. It’s been described as a near ‘zero risk’ business opportunity – you can have a fully sourced and supply-chained merchandise range up and running with relative ease.
5. Remember the little things
When I think about some of the businesses I feel loyal to, I think one of the constant factors is that I feel they appreciate and value my business. In many ways, that goes beyond discounts or gifts, and into pretty intangible things that can make a big difference.
Richard Branson is famously quoted, on the issue of loyalty, as saying: ‘The key is to set realistic customer expectations, and then not just to meet them, but to exceed them – preferably in unexpected and helpful ways.”
CRM systems can help in a big way here. Using these systems, you can keep track of things like customer birthdays, anniversaries, favourite sports teams and children’s lives. You can make a note to send your customers a simple thank-you card or catch up with them in a meaningful way by asking about their family. You can use the data you gather through your customer relationship to add value in those ‘unexpected and helpful’ ways, each time deepening their sense of loyalty. We live in the era of automation, but that should be used to enhance personalisation, not eliminate it.
There are even Shopify apps like ‘Happy Birthday Email’ to automate some of these personal tasks from right within your eCommerce back end.
So, there you have 5 strategies to help you boost customer loyalty in your own business.
Of course, what’s assumed in each of these strategies is that the bedrock upon which loyalty is based is ‘doing the basics right.’ However sweet your brand, however amazing your merch, however well you’re able to communicate with your customers – none of this matters if you ultimately let your customers down.
However, with that said – get the basics right, and follow these strategies – and you’ll be in the best possible position to generate long-term customer loyalty. Good luck!
Author Bio: Charlie Carpenter is the co-founder and managing director of KITE. He is a mobile advocate with over ten years of industry experience. After working for large and small agencies for many years, he co-founded Kite; a software solution for print-on-demand, zero inventory merchandise, and photo print goods catalogues. You can connect with Charlie on LinkedIn, and follow him on Twitter.