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How to create customer loyalty in the digital age

Sure, it still exists for certain brands and in certain categories but the digital revolution has resulted in a world of greater choice, a constant welter of discounts and offers, and access to feedback that can put an immediate halt on any buying decision. Even conventional loyalty schemes have limited powers against relationships that have changed for good.

At a recent seminar we discussed how winning and retaining customers in this new environment requires a different way of thinking and new approaches to technology. In 2021, it’s the customer experience that counts and making use of new platforms is the key to making those winning experiences a reality.

Whatever happened to customer loyalty? 

Kin + Carta recently undertook research amongst 2,000 people that highlighted some of the main factors that matter when it comes to customer loyalty. 

  • Convenience is prominent such as the ability to easily return goods. 
  • Quality of communication after the product has been purchased leaves a lasting impression. 
  • Relevance of recommendations can also make or break a relationship.

These three basic ‘hygiene’ factors were given equal importance with the traditional rewards-based loyalty programme which shows how crucial it is to focus on customer experience. 

What is experience?

Customer experience can mean different things to different people. If you're from a digital marketing background, you might think it’s the experience a person has on a website, or when they engage with emails. Those in customer services will judge it on how they handle calls and social interactions with potential purchasers. Web developers will tell you it’s all about your awful loading times.

All of those perspectives are correct but only in a limited way. To us, it's about the totality of a person's experience with a brand. Ultimately, the customer doesn't see your different departments or specialists. They see one holistic journey and any of these factors could colour it for good or bad.

The challenge is how you organise your business around the customer. How do you map and understand journeys? How do you change the way you work to reduce friction in customer experiences?

Fundamentally, you can't deliver a good customer experience if you don't understand customers and their needs. And you can’t understand customers without beginning to tap into the data created from their interactions with your brand.

You need the capability to unify data from all the different customer interactions and bring that together around a single identifiable version of a customer and their persona.

This also needs to be supported by a continuous feedback loop, to understand what engagement is working and what is letting you down. It’s crucial to work out the offers, recommendations, support and services that are resonating with customers.

"It is no longer enough to just be reactive, you must be proactive to deliver this value using new channels of communications and delight your customers with every interaction in order to earn their loyalty."

Matisha Ladiwala - Head of Growth, Dynamics 365 Marketing, Microsoft

Technology makes the difference

If you get this right, you can build deep relationships and earn customers for life. That means adding value in every interaction and exceeding expectations. This is how people have always built relationships, what's different is how we do this today. The reality is that brands cannot rely on their staff to nurture 1-2-1 relations with customers – that doesn’t work if you are a global business serving millions of customers. This is where technology, fuelled by data and AI can help to automate and scale the delivery of personal experiences.


And that technology is there to do it. For example, Microsoft has been building capabilities to equip organisations with the functionality they need to deliver consistent, engaging and data informed experiences to customers. Their Customer Experience Platform provides a complete set of tools to enable you to deliver exceptional customer experiences and is built on a foundation of data and AI. From the ability to ask questions using natural language like “Which customers are not engaging with our emails” to AI generating suggestions that help optimise journeys, and engage customers in the channels where they exist; the platform is all about helping you be more efficient and effective in managing customer interactions.

Right time may mean ‘real time’

Today’s customers expect these experiences to be delivered when it matters and that means being able to respond to their interactions in a timeframe the customer perceives as relevant to the interaction they're having. Quite often, this means that brands have to embrace real-time in their experience delivery.

Moving to real-time can be daunting. it may mean a shift to more modern architectures that allow interactions to be detected, interpreted and responded to instantaneously. You may have to rethink how you work, for example a lot more copy and artwork permutations may be required which may mean different approval processes are required, or strategies adopted to automate the creation and approval of content. Likely, it will mean that more of your customer and marketing experiences need to be thought of as mission critical and have the appropriate resources and strategies to keep them operational 24/7/365.It’s hard work but creating and maintaining loyalty is hard.

Start small and choose your moments

Whilst it may be hard work, you don’t need to solve every problem on day one. When looking at your entire customer journey, you need to identify the right moments to optimise out of the hundreds or thousands of possibilities. Picking something that can deliver a proven benefit to your organisation and the customer is key to building your case to funding all the work needed.

An approach we find successful is to list out all of the touch points when a customer interacts with your organisation, specifically focusing on those moments where the customer initiates the interaction. This is where a nudge might be most influential and personalisation most possible. 

Start small with that moment where the impact is measurable in terms of increased customer lifetime value and frequency of purchase. These metrics will prove how your investment is increasing loyalty and provide momentum to everything you’re doing. You also need to ensure that you have a vision and roadmap that takes these smaller moments into account and shows how each incremental improvement ladders up to that vision.

Creating customer loyalty in the digital age is more complicated than the old days of department stores and friendly smiles. It requires planning, investment and the right choice of platform. But if you’re not doing it then your competitors will be. Wouldn’t you rather that their customers were coming back to you for more?


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