The year 2020 taught us many lessons: lessons on survival, and the changing business equations. It uprooted many of our stagnated notions, shattered a few of our beliefs, and revolutionized the way we do business and connect with customers.
So as you roll up your sleeves for a better year, what sore spots are you taking care of? Have you revised your marketing agendas? Have you reinvented your customer-perceptions?
What is the key word for your business strategy this year? The secret code that you need to hold on to while breaking free from the 2020 slow-down?
The Free Carrot Pudding Cake
The question always pops up while shopping for groceries: whether to buy from the plush, hi-tech, overstocked, cosmopolitan hypermart or the familiar local supermarket around the corner?
The old supermarket lacks the abundance – it does not always have the entire gamut of spices, or stock all the different varieties of cooking oil. You wouldn’t get Worcestershire sauce or Himalayan rock salt – just the plain old tomato ketchup and chilly sauce.
But you are welcomed by the familiar smiling faces; a voice from the cash counter enquires about your father’s health; you get the most robust pulses – non-branded yet farm-fresh; and, a free Carrot Pudding Cake off the rack, every Christmas.
The familiarity, the warm welcome, the fresh produce and the bonus favors get you floored, every time. And unless you are specific about the Worcestershire sauce and the imported dragon fruit, you take the walk to the local store happily.
That is going to be your business mantra for 2021:
Strike a truly genuine and personal note with your customers that would make them walk that extra mile for you – however simple your business may look.
Customer service has always been the key. But today it is more specific: you must delight your customers; beyond the clearance sales and surplus stocks. You need to delight them genuinely enough for them to seek your service and retain them even amidst the second or third waves of the COVID-19 variants!
How are you going to do that?
THE FOUR SOFT SPOTS OF A GREAT CUSTOMER-RETENTION STRATEGY
1. MONOPOLIZE YOUR CUSTOMERS
You cannot afford to lose any of them!
"There is only one boss. The customer. And he/she can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his/her money somewhere else."
- Sam Walton - Travis Biggert
We always knew happy customers bring happy sales.
But, in the days to come, it wouldn’t be merely about making your customers happy, but taking them along with you.
Take your customers through your journey of growth. Make them part of your business and success.
Build a relationship that is sustained on emotions, values and goodwill. Create a persona that your customers can relate to and identify with. People seek fellowship, not businesses. Let them treat your brand as someone who will walk with them, through all seasons and scenarios. Someone they could trust as much as they do their friends and family.
And that’s where you need to re-invent and invest.
In growing your business, two factors make the difference:
CAC –the Cost to Acquire a Customer
LTV – the Lifetime Value of your customer: the purchase value over their lifetime, with you.
With tough competition, both online and offline, retaining a customer has become more complicated than acquiring one. A great inbound marketing strategy helps you lower CAC and attract better organic traffic. But internet protocols for businesses are forever-changing. Internet giants like Amazon, Facebook, and Google have their tight claws deep into online content with more stringent rules. What your SME can do is to raise LTV.
Weave your business around your customers
Unless you make the customers connect with you in all aspects – not just in service, product quality, or after-sales follow-ups, but in keeping them in the loops, in a more transparent and personal way - you will lose them eventually.
Reach out. Connect. Delight. Retain.
Do not underestimate the power of post-sale investments. By “delighting” your customers, it will serve as fodder for your growth through referrals and repeat sales.
As the late American Internet entrepreneur and venture capitalist Tony Hsieh, once remarked, "Customer service should not be a department. It should be the entire company."
Today what you need isn’t a satisfied customer. Your competitor might have more. What you need is a storehouse–full of raving fans that love everything about you, and vouch for your brand, services, and products. Having a virtuous circle of faithful, happy customers is like owning the entire social media! You rule!
2. MIRROR YOUR BRAND’S GOODNESS
We all know happy customers build businesses up. But where does the happiness quotient lie?
Surveys and studies reveal that customers tend to trust companies and advertisements less every year. As per the HubSpot Research Trust Survey, 2018:
55% of customers do not trust the companies they purchase from as much as they used to.
69% of customers do not trust advertisements anymore.
81% trust the advice from their friends and family over that from a business.
People are looking up to familiar faces that they can relate to and trust. And that is where you need to reinvent your brand.
Give your brand a face that they can relate to, a voice that is genuine, and a motto that anchors on goodwill.
Understand your customers – their goals, what they value and cherish.
Research. Ask questions. Send emails. Catch them on social media. Get feedback.
You can never win over your customers without taking efforts to understand them.
It isn’t about a general market study, but a personal one-on-one follows-up of your customers, especially the repeat buyers. And if someone stops with a single one, ask the reason. Interact. Perhaps you may not be in a position to meet their demands at present.
But you might, as you expand your business. And remember then, to get back with them. They will be delighted you did!
Show them you care
Customers should not feel that your marketing strategies – emails, surveys, feedback forms etc – are business-centric: for your benefit. Your interest in their expectations and wants must reflect your genuine concern about building a relationship and that must reflect in every level of your customer interaction – from sales to promotions.
Go that extra mile
The competition will be far more intense in 2021, with more products, ads, and viable platforms competing for customer attention. If your customers fail to connect with you emotionally and your brand fails to stand out with a positive vibe, you will lose your valuable customers in no time.
So do whatever it may take to make a lasting impression. Stretch yourself. Spread more. Surprise more. Network more. Deliver quickly. Address issues honestly. Try to be a bit more transparent this year.
4. MAKE ROOM FOR CHANGES
Analyze your experience last year. And adapt however hard it may seem.
In 1996, Asian paints -India’s most favoured name in paints - sold zero litres of paint. Then they introduced an emulsion that went on to change the entire industry dynamics. From selling paints they shifted their brand purpose to “giving people a chance to express their thoughts through colours." As Mr. Manish Choksi, the current Vice Chairman, Asian Paints Limited, once remarked, people are an important factor of change.
The brand re-invented its image and sales strategy by constantly looking for and addressing the black holes of unfulfilled customer demands.
The engine that drives a business is its adaptability. Be willing to accept things that did not work for you or your customers. Accept new norms. Explore new frontiers. Be willing to change your sales or service propositions if they are not serving their purpose.
Assess your sales process. Check out the loopholes. Ensure informed purchase at every level. Your customers will trust you sooner. Ensure automation wherever possible and required. Provide detailed EAQs. A serious buyer would search for them.
Take heed if customers are complaining. Take the effort to dig to the roots and find the reasons. Your customers may not always mind that things didn’t go well as they expected. But they expect you to resolve their issues.
Work out new solutions. Bring in new strategies. Cut down on redundant ones. If you are keen to build solid customer relationships, then you need to stop treating them as mere buyers. You will have to heed their needs and help them as much as possible. Many businesses already invest in post-sale service and customer support. But where you need to differ from your competitor is when you turn every error, every problem into a great customer-testimony.
The remote tech business Buffer’s Co-founder Leo Widrich explains why their customer support team is called a Happiness Team:
The support team at Buffer welcomes whoever that comes with any problems or queries and assist them in the best and quickest way they can. Result: The customers are happily overwhelmed and share their experience with their friends.
Instead of blowing their own trumpet, Buffer turned great customer service – something that they ought to do – into a very specific and targeted image-building, generating impressive word of mouth referrals.
Do not expect or ask for early commitment from your customers. That will be too “me-centric”. Do not press for testimonials or referrals unless and until you have earned their trust through the value you provide. Remember that your primary responsibility is to make your customer happy and his/her purchase valuable.
Prioritize. Focus on customer satisfaction even if it doesn’t seem to get you as far as you expected. Their satisfaction at the expense of your patience is sure to bring good returns.
4. MAKE USE OF SOCIAL MEDIA, NOT JUST LIVE ON IT!
Every business is spread out on social media these days. In fact, we will see more businesses happening on social media platforms than anywhere else.
As per surveys, 77% of consumers shared positive experiences with their friends, family or on social media/review sites.
But are you spreading too thin on the social media platforms?
Changing times and rules are prompting many companies to cut down on various influencer channels. The trick is to know where to catch your customers and stay active on the relevant platforms. It not only cuts down your costs but helps you with intense-marketing to the right crowd.
You need to be channel-specific rather than social media -addict.
Your content must be versatile enough to adapt to the chosen platforms and you may need multiple versions to entertain your audience on the same. Diversify your content and enrich the user-experience.
Assess your digital presence. Learn from past mistakes and success, and cut out your unique social media strategy that is narrowed down and specific.
With a well-drawn plan for customer acquisition and retention, and building a sturdy network of happy clients around you, your business is sure to rise up from the ashes of the COVID-19 recession and leap ahead in 2021.