Customers are beginning to understand that their true value to companies goes well beyond their wallets. This is the age of the empowered customer, when a single complaint on social media can cost a business millions of dollars, an online review can shape the fortune of a restaurant and feedback can significantly affect business decisions.
The dynamics of the relationship have shifted so customers have more power in their relationships with companies. As a result, the attention, data and opinions that customers are willing to provide companies have taken on significant value. Customers are starting to recognize their nonmonetary value and in return they expect more than a receipt and a thank you.
In 2015, creating quality products and delivering exceptional services will be table stakes. They will no longer be enough to differentiate a single company from the competition.
Instead, companies will need to consider the true value of their customer relationships and provide meaningful value in return. Here are four strategies for businesses to be sure customers keep coming back.
Although several companies have launched the following four strategies over the last several years, they’re still a minority and few of them are doing all four:
1. Get personal.
Companies need to see their customers as people not data points. They must to find a way to be personal with their customers and connect with them on a human level. Take a look at women’s retailer Chico’s, for which my company, Vision Critical, provides a customer intelligence platform, a secure, cloud-based community of thousands of customers who help improve products, store design and marketing.
By continuously reaching out to customers for feedback and insight, Chico’s can offer a personal and tailored experience. Recently, Chico’s sent members of its community pants of a new length. After asking customers to upload photos of themselves wearing the new style, Chico’s discovered that some women were unsure about what type of shoes to wear with the pants.
This feedback led to an alert to Chico’s creative team to showcase the pants in a head-to-toe-outfit.
2. Customization matters.
An enormous benefit of companies getting to know their customers as individuals is being able to provide them personalized experiences. Bespoke service is in. People want products that seem original and cater to individual wants and needs.
That’s why Converse and Nike provide customers with the ability to build their own shoes, including deciding the colors and patterns. Car manufacturers such as BMW let buyers craft their own driving machines.
And Toshiba helps customers determine the type of laptop user they are, then lets them customize their own.
A 2013 Bain & Co. survey found that 25 percent to 30 percent of consumers want to customize their purchases. "If 25 percent of online sales of footwear were customized, that would equate to a market of $2 billion per year," the report estimated.
3. Build clout.
Customers desire being rewarded for their loyalty, whether through exclusive offers or gaining access to the VIP area behind the digital velvet rope.
Yelp has taken online reviews to a new level by not only rewarding users for contributing but also granting a new status for those frequently sharing their opinions. Frequent reviewers receive "Elite" status and an eye-catching logo next to their user name.
Users sharing reviews can also check in to locations. The more someone checks in to a specific location, the more badges they earn, showcasing that they really, truly know that place.
The reviewers can accumulate "friends" and increase their social status within the Yelp community. Reviewers are motivated to publicize their position within their network, proving that clout encourages friendly competition, creates a sense of ownership and keeps customers coming back for more.
4. Deliver entertainment.
Yelp’s gamified reward system isn’t just gratifying. It's entertaining. Customers have access to a dizzying array of information and distractions across a variety of channels, encouraging companies to devise strategies to hold the attention of customers.
No matter the industry, the entertainment factor is critical to building a brand that can successfully attract new customers, retain existing ones and deliver a lasting, multidimensional experience.
Red Bull, for example, has been able to expand its brand beyond the energy-drink category into the arts and entertainment arena with its Canvas Cooler Project, whereby artists design coolers and showcase them at events nationwide.
Similarly, coffee brand Illy aimed for high-end cachet by partnering with contemporary artists like Jeff Koons and Julian Schnabel to release limited-edition espresso cups. These companies understand the intrinsic value in creating an entertaining experience connected to the promise of their brand.