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GUEST COMMENT Customer retention: create a one-on-one experience

In an online realm where choice or availability is no longer a concern, a differentiator must be found among the provider-customer experience. A personalised touch now holds the key to retaining long-term custom.

Digital marketers, businesses and retailers are in somewhat of a catch-22 situation at present. There is a responsibility for each to provide the full gamut of information pertinent to what they’re providing, offering or selling; while at the same time making it a personal, bespoke experience akin to that found in-store or through face-to-face engagement.

The truth is, while this is a tough balancing act to master, by not doing so your chances of retaining custom is essentially nil; especially when there are so many competitors out there who are meeting these expectations.

But, how are they meeting them? The answer lies before a marketing campaign is initiated, during the sales process, and then during aftersales too. At every stage of the customer-provider process, the former must feel like they are being given undivided and, importantly, tailored, attention.

AI-generated loyalty

Starting at the beginning, you can reach out to a specific customer before they’re even aware of you. By adopting artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning technologies, a retailer can now target specific demographics or even individuals based on prior feedback, consumer trends, previous purchases, price points and hundreds of more parameters that help a business whittle down its marketing to a select few recipients.

In doing so, a potential customer immediately feels valued and endeared towards the provider. It’s an approach which has been adopted by even the biggest enterprises; huge supermarket chains and entertainment providers like Netflix capitalizing on the technologies available in order to better promote their products and services in real time.

To be sitting on your sofa, unsuccessfully flicking through channels, only to find exactly what you were after staring at you from your Netflix suggestions, is a comforting feeling. The provider is, of course, doing that same thing for every single one of its consumers, but to each person, in turn, it’s a very personal experience. The challenge for SMEs and larger businesses alike is to achieve the same ‘this offering was made for me’ feeling across all product and service strands.
In doing so, you can generate a sense of customer loyalty that is otherwise – almost – impossible to achieve in the modern climate.

Treat people like people, not data

Next, during the shopping phase, digital once again has the opportunity to not just match brick and mortar retail’s personal touch; but to actually enhance it.

In a store, you can ask questions; you can query prices, you can check if more sizes are available and you can even have a chat with customer relations personnel. Trying to replicate that for someone sat at a computer is inevitably tough, but the trick now is to treat these online customers as people, not data.

To do so, you need to adopt a human-like personality within your e-commerce channel. Firstly, be honest! Don’t try to be an everyman solution – there are so many alternatives out there that you’ll soon be found out. Highlight your strengths and even admit your weaknesses through open customer reviews and testimonials. It’ll endear you to the shopper while emphasising the strong points more believable.

Education comes next. By providing as much information as possible about a product in the most digestible way, customers are once again deterred from leaving their computers or, worse still, leaving your proposition entirely. Eyebuydirect has adopted a fun quiz in this regard to foster interactivity, and to help consumers find the perfect eyeglasses for them among the broad selection, and it is through this personalised service that we as online retailers can go beyond the customer attention provided in-store.

Furthering this notion are gimmicks like chatbots which have quickly become commonplace in e-commerce to help serve-up the ultimate one-on-one experience. After all, one customer service worker per one customer simply can’t be matched in physical stores.

Achieving the personable without the person

Similar to AI’s influence on pre-sales marketing, automation can help to achieve a similar effect during the aftersales process, and in cementing repeat business

Once a customer has used your service, it is then imperative to ‘stay in touch’, as all good friends do. Again, this is where online can differentiate itself from physical stores. The building of online profiles and accounts can lead to the retailer providing day-to-day information on potential products that come across as tailored advice rather than self-serving spam.

Automation, in general, takes human error out of the equation when it comes to targeted marketing. Much like machine learning it only deals in hard, cold stats and data. And while that seems impersonal at the time, and certainly doesn’t profess to result in 100% success, it gives businesses the most informed chance possible of hitting the right people at the right time with the right offering.

Systems like Shopify’s virtual assistant, Kit is an apt example of how the personable can be achieved without the person. Creating automated email campaigns, social media drives, and app integrations, retailers are urged to either let technology make decisions for them or to at least let technology provide detailed data so they can make more strategic decisions themselves.

Community-led branding: the next frontier

By embracing and optimizing each of these aforementioned avenues, the hope is that the whole ‘brick and mortar versus online’ debate becomes a thing of the past. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. Physical retail will continue to innovate and evolve to make itself as attractive as possible, and e-commerce needs to do the same. As such, they can both become independently successful. However, to achieve this, both need to integrate the other’s main advantages into their own repertoire; and by creating a personalised one-on-one experience, digital is keeping up its end of the bargain.

It’s strange to comprehend, but despite its lack of human contact, online retail can become the only option for a completely devoted customer-provider transaction. There are even some examples where the focus has switched entirely, as customers dictate what products are designed, manufactured and sold. ‘Community-led branding’ naturally fits within areas of food & drink as seen through companies like So Shape but may well be the next frontier for leisure, business and even our domains – healthcare and fashion – in the years to come as well.

Author: Itza Bocken is the social media manager at EyeBuyDirect

Image credit: Fotolia

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