People aren’t exactly loyal by nature, yet loyalty is exactly what most of us want at the end of the day: a loving spouse, a fluffy pooch, and a comfy sofa we know will never abandon us. And business isn’t so different.
In fact, one of the cornerstones of running a successful small business is building customer loyalty. Small business owners are always looking for ways to recruit more returning customers and increase their customer loyalty programs.
Now, while human nature is more or less consistent, the way businesses interact with their customers has changed dramatically in recent years. Mobile commerce and mobile business have become a force to be recognized, and there is no doubt that consumer-business relationships are in the midst of a roaring revolution.
So how are small business owners, with their constant need for nurturing and building customer loyalty, making the transition into the wonderful age of mobile? Why, by doing what most people do in an unfamiliar situation— screwing up, of course!
It’s OK, though. Making mistakes is the first step in, well—not making mistakes. And if you happen to be reading this post, you get to take a shortcut and skip right over to the “not” part of the equation.
I’ve had the personal pleasure of observing and working with hundreds of businesses of all shapes and sizes, and I’m going to pay it forward to you small business owners out there with a review of the three most grievous mistakes a small business can make when it comes to customer loyalty. Along with some quick instructions for redemption…
1. The Mistake: Believing that tangible is better than digital
In the old days, local businesses used to hand out tokens and paper customer loyalty cards, and some of them still do. The thing is, these physical items are more than likely to be left at home, and thus utterly fail as an effective method to retain customers or build loyalty.
Many small businesses are so bent on handing out tangible loyalty cards, in fact, that they forget the one portable digital item their customers wouldn’t leave at home for the life of them. You guessed it—their precious, indispensable smartphone.
Joey Hopps, owner of the Pit Stop Bottle Shop, tells it like it is, “People lose paper cards all the time! I couldn’t tell you where my paper punch card is from the coffee house down the street. People don’t lose their phones. It’s as simple as that.”
These days, a mobile app with a loyalty card has a much higher probability of staying with your customer at any given time than a plastic or paper card.
And, of course, it’s a great tried-and-tested way for a small business to enjoy the fruits of the customer loyalty they built—just ask the folks at the Lakeside Fitness Center, who saw a 30% increase in their shake sales after adding a mobile loyalty card to their app.
There’s also the minor fact that a plastic card, however tangible, can’t be used to communicate, whereas a mobile app can be used to send push notifications that retains customers by encouraging them to use their loyalty card again and again.
And if you’re still not convinced, just ask yourself the following question: How many times a day do you open your wallet as opposed to your smartphone? You do the math.
2. The Mistake: Ignoring mobile dialogue
Gone are the days of one-sided communications between a business and its customers. Sending flyers or publishing an ad in the local newspaper used to be a way for shop owners to send potential clientele a message, without ever getting back any live feedback. And lacking a good alternative, this made sense at the time.
The problem starts when businesses continue with this outdated strategy in the social and predominantly mobile world we live in today; a world where consumers expect their opinions to be not only heard, but asked for directly.
The bottom line: when your customers expect a dialogue and you offer them a monologue, you’re singlehandedly sabotaging the loyalty you built with them.
A mobile app is the embodiment of the connection between you and your customer, so it only makes sense to use it to propel dialogue and drive loyalty between you and your clientele.
As a small business owner, you might be asking yourself if your customers really want to contact you through your app. Well, we’ve done the research, and the numbers speak for themselves, loudly and clearly at that. The Form feature, for example, allows customers to send inquiries, answer surveys, or set appointments, among other things.
In 2014 alone, more than 60,000 app communications were sent from customers to app owners on Swiftic-powered apps (based on a sample of 1,000 apps). The businesses that answered customer inquiries directly (and enabled their customers to reach them on mobile in the first place…) gained powerful first steps toward improving customer retention.
The lesson here is clear. Unless you’re dealing with a spam robot or someone violating your Terms of Conduct, answer any question asked on your app’s Contact Page exactly as you would if a customer asked it at your physical place of business. As long as you remain professional, courteous, and diplomatic, you shouldn’t hesitate to tackle any issues your customers may be raising, even if the comments are of a critical nature.
A customer who gets attention and pampering (in other words, good service) on your mobile channel is undoubtedly more likely to convert to a returning brick-and-mortar patron than a customer who is ignored.
The other key ingredient in the cocktail is asking the right questions. When you do this, your customers know you care, and you can implement their valuable feedback regularly. For example, issue an in-app survey on what types of goods or services your customers would like to see added to your menu, or tweet a question about which of two potential promotions they would like more. Classic engagement magnets like these are sure to boost your customer satisfaction and turn them into loyal regulars.
3. The Mistake: Sleeping through opportunities to connect with customers
An important part of building a winning customer loyalty strategy is being consistent. When I know my favorite pizza place sends me great discount coupons every Tuesday, I’ll be sure to drop by there to redeem the deal. They consistently invest in my patronage, and I consistently respond in kind.
Which isn’t too surprising; like any relationship, the business-to-customer connection needs constant attention, along with consistent brief reminders of devotion to really hit it off in the long run. The strategy makes good sense, yet the biggest loyalty mistake businesses make in the mobile era is going into a slumber and doing things in an inconsistent way.
Some create a great app but neglect to update it with the newest features for months on end. Others send only one push notification about a sale, ignore their customers, or post only once a month on social media channels—seemingly small oversights that carry hefty consequences with today’s mobile consumers. The mobile world is dynamic and ever progressing, and failing to keep up with the trends is a fool-proof way to kill customer loyalty.
Two simple steps. The first involves changing your attitude, especially if you think virtual customers are somehow less valuable than their in-the-flesh counterparts. So, just as you would never ignore a customer who’s standing inside your store, you should never ignore the hundreds of them who are hanging out with your business on mobile. Realize that, if done right, being loyal to your customers with irresistible and ongoing offers like coupons, sales, and special promotions will keep them coming back more than anything else.
The second step is creating a sort of monthly mobile to-do list for your business. Prepare a marketing-activity calendar for yourself that features everything you plan to do along the different mobile fronts each month. This can include the updates you’re going to add to your app (like new features), the coupons you plan to offer, and the push notifications you’re going to send to promote those offers.
The key to retaining your customers effectively is supplying a healthy dose of predictability while maintaining an element of occasional surprise. You can do this by delivering your customers constant solid value and at the same time, periodically delighting them with spontaneous, tempting perks.
Just remember not to get carried away and overdo it with mobile notifications, as this can potentially annoy your customers, resulting in the opposite effect of the one you had intended. The number of times you should update varies between platforms. For example, while it’s perfectly acceptable to post between two to three times a week on social media, it’s usually not appropriate to send out as many mobile push notifications.
Ultimately, the best strategy depends on your business and customer base. So use common sense, test the waters for customer feedback, and work with the method that best keeps your customers happy and coming back for more.
So there you have it—the top three ways small businesses are sabotaging customer loyalty in a flourishing mobile age, and some quick mobile fixes to save the day.
Ready to boost your customer loyalty?