Customer loyalty – collected wisdom

Photo: Thomas Lapperre

There’s a new article on customer loyalty in my feed almost daily and all look at different stages in the customer journey. So I thought I’d collect some of the top tips for you here in one place.

Exceed Expectations

When it comes to creating repeat customers and building brand loyalty this is a no brainer. So once you’ve covered the basics (fast shipping, friendly customer service), you can start looking at other possibilities for communicating excellence. Each touch point in the customer journey offers different opportunities. There are different ways to denote these touch points, but every online retailer probably shops online themselves and can identify with these:

Photo: Starbucks’ cup design campaign

The Browse
This is where customers clicking through your shop actually experience the look and feel of your company and brand. There is so much more to do here than just product images and info texts. There has been a lot of talk about video being essential. I remain unconvinced. But wherever you stand on video, and whatever your preferred look utilise user generated content. User reviews build trust, and use generated images and stories help brand building and a personal connection with your customer base. Of course, getting up close and personal with customers can be a great way to bond – but not too close or you might come across as creepy!

Filling the Cart
If you’ve done your job right during browse, this will be the euphoric phase of filling the shopping cart before seeing the final bill and possible cart break-off. Adding a surprise bonus if your customer starts emptying their cart can help push them towards checkout.

This is where customers finally make the decision to fork out their cash. Make sure there is a guest option so new customers don’t have to make an account and incorporate one-click buying options for existing accounts.

Payment options can be a huge cause of late cart break-off. Make sure you offer a payment method which does not involve a card or paypal as well as the usual visa options.

There are exciting developments in shipping happening and if you can afford to implement them, it can make all the difference. Amazon’s drones are still awhile away, but if you have a service provider who will do it, scheduled delivery can be a life saver for busy people. It’s no use getting your package within 2 business days if it arrives at your house midday on a work day and you have to sacrifice your lunch break in the next three days to queue for it at the post office because (surprise surprise) you weren’t home. Many companies in Japan now, for instance will let you call and reschedule delivery if you missed your parcel – even for the same evening.

The power of low expectations: It is better to say you can deliver in 2-3 business days and have the parcel arrive the next day, than offer one day shipping and fail to meet that promise. Even though same day delivery is being pushed more and more, 2-3 day delivery is still fine. Customers are more likely to remember that their parcel arrived early and always on time than that you offered fast shipping times. And if you couldn’t make good on your promise even just once, that will stick forever.

Receipt (Packaging and Freebies)
The customer finally gets their parcel and sees the products they ordered for the first time. Many shops to a great job of drawing customers in with gorgeous shop presentation, but forget this key moment when the customer actually experiences the products in analogue – so to say.

There are many disappointing things in life, but one of the worst in online shopping has to be ordering what looks like classic boutique clothing online, imagining yourself in the look and atmosphere presented in the shop, and getting a bunch of plastic bags instead. Stationary stores can be divided into the paper or plastic approach: those who chuck your items in a plastic bag vs. those who lovingly pack them in tissue paper and place them in a paper carrier bag with ribbon handles. The offline presentation of your products makes a huge difference in online trade. Sometimes nice packaging can result in social sharing (the best kind of free advertising), like this DYI project MichaelaEveryone loves a freebie. Even the smallest surprise goody has a huge impact. Keep it small. I still remember the added touches and surprise lolly pops in my first order from a certain special up market shop for women. Steer clear of a ‘hidden’ agenda. There is a place for vouchers, but most of those 5 Euro voucher *only valid with orders of 60 Euros or more end up in the trash and feel more like a cheap flyer than a real gift. Small, but personal is better.

On-Going Contact

Mail: No one likes spam. Decrease the frequency of mailings and provide high quality content instead. A birthday mail is nice, a real birthday card in the mail is better if you can afford it.

Loyalty programmes: The latest report from the 2015 Colloquy census shows that loyalty programme membership has increased by 26% since 2013 with Americans holding an average of 29 loyalty programme memberships per household. However, customers will only be active in a fraction of these.

» “Think of the U.S. loyalty market in terms of a crowded party where half of the party-goers are standing in the corner without mingling” – Jeff Berry, COLLOQUY research director «

The key to a good loyalty programme is to keep it simple and make benefit direct. Spending brackets, point use-by-dates, and a difficult redemption processes all get in the way of actually bonding with the customer. The basic model – single stage sigh-up, show your card, get points, get a gift voucher or cash back once a points threshold is reached and repeat – is still the best way. Anything more complex than that and few have the time or energy for it. Online card activation is a killer for instance.

This is always a tricky one. Returns cost money – make them difficult to deter serial returners or make them easy and no fuss to improve repeat custom? It is a balancing act every shop has to work on themselves. A B testing can help. Personally, I prefer an easy return. Zalando’s resealable box and pre-filled returns form is a great best practice example

Customer service
Most customer service communication happens once something has gone wrong, making it the last chance to regain customer trust and loyalty before losing them for good. The price of poor customer service is high compared to getting it right. Being able to just write an email and get a personal, real response is the best form of customer service for busy people dealing with problems. Video technical support is great if it fits your shop profile, but not every branch really needs it.

In Summary

Whatever measure you decide to put your budget into, keep it pretty, consistent, personal, simple, and give a little more than advertised.
Finally, the customer is not a different species – fickle, elusive and highly prized. If you have an online shop, chances are you shop online yourself. Buy something from your own shop, sit behind your customer’s keyboard and see what the view is like from there.

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