What do customers really want and how can brands deliver that effectively?
We caught up with Deb Brown, a customer retention and relationship marketing expert, for an intriguing interview about a variety of topics connected to the world of customer loyalty.
Brown is the author of the book, Lifelong Loyal Clients: How Smart Professionals Turn Relationships into Revenues.
Jim Tierney: What are brands doing well when it comes to customer retention and where do the challenges lie?
Deb Brown: We hear all the time about national brands that take good care of their customers: Chick-fil-A, Trader Joe’s, Zappos, Apple, Starbucks. Where I live, there is a regional fast food hamburger chain called Culver’s that is doing things well. They have good food, a clean environment, and friendly employees.
They deliver your food to your table and ask if you need anything else. It is almost impossible to walk out of the restaurant without someone thanking you for coming. They have a rewards program that includes a free scoop of custard on your birthday. Kids also have their own rewards and can save up tokens towards prizes or free meals.
The challenge comes down to dollars. Is your company willing to invest the money to take care of your customers? It costs Culver’s money to give away free custard and kids’ meals. However, it keeps their customers coming back in the door and builds loyalty. Many companies decide saving money in the short term is more important. Investing in customers is the long game, but it produces huge dividends.
Jim: It costs far less to retain a customer than acquire a new one. Why do you think retailers don’t place a larger emphasis on customer retention?
Deb: Going after something new is always more exciting. Somehow it sounds better to say you had a certain number of new people walk through your doors this month than that same number of customers returning. Logically, we think, “Those customers were already here. Getting them in the door again isn’t anything new.” Retailers are shortsighted if they don’t realize the long-term value of a customer.
Jim: Many brands are rethinking their customer loyalty strategies these days and experiential benefits play a huge role. Can you talk about the role of experiential benefits and instant rewards in today’s Age of the Customer?
Deb: When a customer has an experience with a brand, it creates a memory and triggers emotions. When it comes right down to it, purchasing decisions are made on emotion. If a customer has a bad experience, they will avoid repeating it and warn others. Customers desire more good experiences and will naturally seek those out.
We are also a society that seeks instant gratification. If you can give an immediate reward, it produces a positive experience and a positive emotion that will reinforce your brand.
Jim: In this Age of the Customer, and exceedingly high expectations and rapidly changing technology, how would you say customer loyalty is changing?
Deb: Customers want more than great value. They want a great experience. When a company gives them an experience worth talking about, they will share it with others and come back to experience it for themselves again.
Customers want to know that the business values them. They want to be more than a number. When the experience isn’t what they expected, they are happy to take their dollars to the competitor. In fact, they want to take their business elsewhere to “punish” the original business for the bad experience.
It is also important to make it easy for customers to do business with your company. With people attached to their smartphones 24 hours a day, that is often the way they are first connecting with your business. Use technology to your advantage and give clear instructions about location, hours of operation, and the best way to contact you.
Jim: As many brands rethink their loyalty strategies, more brands are considering premium loyalty programs. Can you talk about the merits of a premium loyalty program and how this type of paid offering can greatly enhance the customer experience, customer engagement, and strengthen retention (i.e. Prime) through a mix of attractive, always accessible benefits?
Deb: Premium loyalty programs like Amazon Prime can work. It gives the consumer a feeling of belonging to an elite club. But it must be done right. You must find the benefits that your customer wants. Free two-day shipping is great from a brand that you can order everything from household items to birthday gifts from. But it might not be a big enough benefit for a retailer that the consumer visits less frequently. Brands need to think about it from their customer’s perspective. What would entice them to become a member of “the club?”
Jim: What customer loyalty trends do you foresee in the future?
Deb: Using data from their customers, they can target rewards and personalize the experience for each customer. The more personalized and individualized a company makes its interactions, the more their customers will feel cared for and listened to.
As Deb asks: Is your company willing to invest the money to take care of your customers?
In this Age of the Customer, with seemingly infinite options, customer-centricity has never meant more. Most purchasing decisions are made on emotion. Customers seek and want instant gratification.
What do customers want more than great value?
They want a great experience. What are you going to do to deliver that?