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Reciprocal Loyalty -- the Best Way to Acquire and Retain Customers

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A recent article in Fortune asked a powerful and profound question that affects consumers, companies and the economy in a major and lasting way: "Where have all the shoppers gone?"

The answer to the question is equally powerful and profound -- and there's no riddle or ambiguity involved: They've gone to companies that thank them for their loyal purchases and online engagement.

And they're frequenting businesses that share their beliefs about the world around them, enterprises that make human-to-human connection a priority and organizations that want rich, rewarding and reciprocal long-term relationships.

Fortunately, current technology is helping establish and strengthen the bonds between companies and their customers. One client of my software company, BigDoor, is Starbucks, whose My Starbucks Rewards program has more than 16 million users. Not only does Starbucks deliver personalized products; it is generous in delivering innovative customer rewards, even providing out-of-the-box games to the customer experience.

Related: Fashioning a Memorable Retail Experience That People Will Share

Building a better company connection via information.

Today's shoppers, for example, have access to more digital information and comparison tools than ever before. The heaps of helpful data that customers can access come from all over, including online forums, reviews from friends and strangers and the way the company presents itself to prospective (and loyal) customers.

The depth and always-on availability of this digital data means that customers are increasingly in touch with the companies they buy from.

Consumers today care about a company's moral compass, the reasons it's in business, how its products are made and delivered and how it views its place in the larger retail industry. Customers also might feel a sense of self when they purchase from a retailer and it's almost as if the company were an extension of their personalities and beliefs.

Shoppers are not necessarily loyal to companies that merely provide steep discounts. Instead, they're loyal to businesses that will express their feelings about the world and offer exclusive deals and discounts. My view is that companies that do both are much better positioned to succeed in the marketplace.

Related: Why Small Businesses Should Be Utilizing Customer-Loyalty Programs

Secure appreciation through client support.

Additionally, giving back to customers through customer support is part of establishing reciprocal loyalty that benefits both customers and companies.

The relationship dynamic here creates a virtuous circle: Companies show sensitivity and gratitude toward their customers, and consumers support businesses through advocacy, purchase behavior and community participation.

Then companies show their appreciation for customers even more by investing in shoppers' experiences, providing valuable content and thanking consumers with extra rewards and benefits. Customers then respond by telling the digital world how much they love the brand, which is a win-win for both the company and the consumer.

Companies that are winning over shoppers are also doing the following:

1. Investing in beautiful websites to give customers a delightful experience.

2. Streamlining every part of the customer experience, from the first interaction on.

3. Delivering excellent and authentic customer service through a variety of channels.

4. Providing valuable customer-centric benefits.

In a world where people are asking where all the shoppers have gone, this two-way loyalty is a differentiating factor between companies that do well and those that dominate.

Looking ahead, I believe that reciprocal loyalty will become a new standard for effectively acquiring and retaining customers. Companies that truly put the consumer first will never have to ask where all the shoppers have gone.

Related: Retailers of All Sizes Can Deliver a Seamless Shopping Experience

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