To be sustainable, businesses need to keep customers coming back. While providing a high quality product or service is a big piece of the puzzle, it isn’t the only interaction customers will have with your company. When other businesses are offering equally competitive products – or succeeding in other areas – you need to find other ways to differentiate yourself, and stand out amongst the crowd.
So, how can an organisation maintain customer loyalty? The answer isn’t one simple trick, but it does have one key foundation. While the process of keeping customers is complex and multi-faceted, it all starts with customer service, and understanding how each interaction shapes your reputation. By assessing the different points at which customers engage with your business, you can implement processes to improve them, and impress customers at every opportunity.
Why is customer loyalty important to an organisation?
Attracting customers is often seen as the hardest part of running a business. In a crowded marketplace, you not only need to put your products in front of people, but convince them that they represent better value than your competitors. Once you’ve achieved this – and begin to find success – there’s an assumption that growth will be exponential, and that new customers will stack on top of your old ones.
This is a common train of thought – and a dangerous one. While your influx of new customers and the growth of your business may speak to the quality of your products, it will also attract the attention of your competitors. Unless they are extremely complacent, they will take action to address this, and win your new customers back. Equally, you might fail to impress those customers for a number of reasons, and see them leave of their own accord.
Maintaining customer loyalty ensures that your brand will be at the forefront of people’s minds when they come to buy a product that you offer. By winning their loyalty, you’ll not only have an in-built audience for your products and services, but an army of informal brand ambassadors. By using your products and discussing them with other people, they’ll help to market your business through word of mouth, increasing its reach and its prominence.
How to maintain customer loyalty
Maintaining customer loyalty is a continuous process, and one that needs to be taken seriously. Customers should never be taken for granted, and it should never be assumed that you’ve won people over for life. Beyond the obvious things like continuing to innovate and provide high quality products, here are some of the ways you can maintain customer loyalty.
Prioritise the customer experience
If you sell your own products or services, the process of shopping with you should be a pleasant one. Each impediment in the purchasing process is an opportunity for people to reconsider their choice. If there’s ever any difficulty in completing the transaction – or anything that makes the prospective customer question their loyalty – you could very easily lose them.
As people become more canny about shopping around for the best prices, and rely more heavily on reviews and comparison sites, loyalty is never more fragile than it is during the purchasing process. Ensuring your purchasing funnel – whether that’s online or offline – is as frictionless as possible will keep people’s minds off the alternatives, and exactly where you want them.
Improve your customer service
In some sense, everything you do for customers is customer service. When it comes to the specifics of customer support, however, taking it seriously is key. A large proportion of customers will have to engage with your customer service department at some point, and the likelihood of this increases the longer you retain them – making it crucial that each interaction is handled as effectively as possible.
Most people are looking for two things when they engage customer service: a quick resolution and a good outcome. Achieving both means having the structures in place to provide succinct answers, avoid delays and be magnanimous about your failings. If a problem happens that’s unfortunate, it should be solved quickly and apologetically; but if it’s all your fault, your staff should have the leeway to offer compensation.
Provide added value
‘Added value’ is common parlance in marketing, almost to the point of cliche. Often applied literally to things like prices and discounts, added value can take many forms, and appear in different parts of the customer journey. Perhaps the simplest way to explain it is that it’s giving customers things they wouldn’t necessarily expect – that bit of ‘added value’ on top of the usual customer experience.
Say you have a product on sale that you know a customer has bought previously. The expected response might be not to tell them: they’ll either find it on their own, or they won’t, and they may end up paying more later. Emailing them with the offer might make you slightly less on that sale, but it’s a courtesy that customers will appreciate, and reciprocate with repeat business. While that’s just one isolated example, it’s the essence of added value: giving customers something that they want, but wouldn’t normally expect.
Reward customer loyalty
All of the points above are means to establish and maintain loyalty, but it also helps to be more explicit. Customer loyalty and rewards programmes are among the oldest tricks in the customer service book, and they’ve persisted for a reason. From stamps on a card to the data harvesting (and discounts) of supermarket schemes, loyalty and rewards programmes provide a direct incentive for customers to shop in the same place.
Of course, this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to customer rewards. The way you measure and reward loyalty will differ depending on your business, your generosity, and your creativity. A simple example might be a reward on your customer’s birthday in the form of a free item, discount or extra points. But anything you offer will be gratefully received as long as it has value, whether that’s monetary or more sentimental.
Without securing customer loyalty, your business will struggle to build the base it needs to grow from. The tips above are straightforward for the most part, but they encapsulate everything that’s important about the customer experience, and the value of each interaction. By adding value, staying consistent and setting yourself apart from the competition, you can build a loyal customer base that can be relied on, and see you through the lows and the highs.