Gone are the days when troubleshooting and call centers were enough to make your customers brand-loyal. Today, with so many ways to connect and establish relationships online, combined with the noise of competitors vying for attention, standing out in the crowd means you'll need to not just help customers when they need it, but wow them throughout their experience.
It's time to start thinking of your connection to customers as a kind of journey rather than a single touchpoint. In a 2016 customer behavior study published in The Journal of Marketing, researchers Katherine Lemon and Peter Verhoef said businesses now have to look at customer service as function spanning across divisions and resources—from information technology and service operations to marketing and finding the right external partners.
Here are some creative ways to help surprise and delight your customers and turn them into loyal brand ambassadors.
Keep yourself at the top of their radar.
The old adage, "out of sight, out of mind" couldn't ring more true when it comes to building strong customer relationships. That means it's up to you to find ways to stay relevant and on the minds of customers, even when they aren't using or thinking about your product or service.
Customer engagement—how people behave in relation to your brand outside of just making a purchase—plays a major role here. Think creatively about how you can partner with brands that offer complementary services and products to yours or how tech partnerships can help enhance your customers' experience. This can be done either through an app developed for your business or by embedding an external technology that helps streamline customer transactions.
Reward them for their loyalty.
Offering customers a reward for referring their friends and family to your business is a great way to build loyalty by creating incentives. Just make sure those offerings are meaningful to customers. Instead of giving them a 15 percent discount on their next purchase, perhaps you send them a gift card for a certain amount of money or credit cash directly to their account.
Often, it's not the amount of financial incentive you offer customers for their loyalty so much as the way it's presented. For example, for higher price-point purchases, research has found that framing discounts in terms of dollar amounts rather than percentage off gives customers a greater incentive to buy.
Let them choose and customize how you connect with them.
With so many touchpoints along the way, it can be easy for the connection between brand and customer to be diluted by all the noise. Take care not to let that happen.
Sure, you want to establish a line of communication with customers by email, phone, text and live chat, but offer them customizable user settings that let them decide what form of communication they like best. Meet them where they are at rather than flooding them with marketing materials or trying to connect with them on a platform they rarely check.
Include them in your marketing.
Customers want to feel like you care about them and often that means handing the mic over to them and trusting what they have to say about your brand.
Recent data from OfferPop reveals 85 percent of customers found user-generated content more influential than videos or photos created by a brand directly. There's a reason for that. Giving customers a chance to voice their experience—be it through online reviews, shared images and videos, or referral rewards—empowers and gives them a strong incentive to become brand ambassadors.
That means thinking of their relationship with your brand as not just as a sale, but as an ongoing experience.