Service with a smile: how to keep customers coming back

Sell your brand story, adopt a can-do attitude and respond to feedback was some of the advice….

 

Loyal customers are hard won, and easily lost. But there are simple and effective ways to encourage repeat custom. Staff training, loyalty schemes and customer reviews were some points for discussion in our live Q&A on the secrets to customer loyalty.

First up were loyalty schemes, with a few questions from reader Oliver King. He asked if loyalty schemes are effective, whether customers have become less keen on them, and what they might look like in the future.

Naomi Timperley, honorary industry fellow at Salford Business School, co-founder, Tech North Advocates and chair, Capital Pilot, said: “I think it depends on what the customer gets.” Jo Densley, founder of Relish Food Marketing, agreed with this. She said: “Customers are becoming more savvy and comparing one loyalty card against another to see if they are getting good value”

Meanwhile, Joanna Causon, chief executive of The Institute of Customer Service, added that the future of consumer buying is characterised by personalisation, so building trust is important. “If I don’t trust an organisation, I don’t share my data, which means they cannot personalise,” she said. “Points based-loyalty programmes have their place, but what we need to consider is whether they are sufficiently personalised and relevant to the customers’ needs.”

Simon Wadsworth, managing director of Igniyte, added: “Offering a simple, clear system of rewards is more readily seen as a ‘win-win’ for current customers, giving them a more positive image of your company, which can give you an edge on the competition.”

Next the panel discussed staff training: how important are the staff if your aim is keeping customers on side? And what type of training works best? Calum Brannan, CEO and co-founder, No Agent, made a good point: “[Staff] who deal with customer service issues need to have a good deal of emotional intelligence and a can-do attitude.”

According to Causon, many service staff lack this – Institute of Customer Service research revealed 84% of UK customers don’t think UK customer-facing staff have appropriate levels of training. The skills most important to customers revolve around competence, behaviour and attitude. “Training should always have a practical element to it for those involved, making it relevant and real and not overly theoretical,” she added. Causon also pointed to research suggesting that for every 1% increase in employee engagement there is around a 0.5% increase in customer satisfaction.

Stephen Dorman, general manager customer quality, Kia Motors (UK), explained that businesses should always know what they want staff training to achieve and how they will measure its success. “Ensure follow-ups take place with employees,” he added. This will help you see what they’ve learned and to plan the next steps in their development.

Small businesses can have an advantage over big players when it comes to service – many know their customers personally. Armed with this knowledge, they can use simple, low-cost ways to make their customers feel valued. Densley said she often sees this approach among small food and drinks producers. Small acts such as adding a handwritten card or free sample to a customer’s package can encourage them to talk about your brand to their friends and family, she explained.

Aine Breen, owner of Liwu Jewellery, said: “If you are asking them for email addresses, etcetera, be sure to say what is in it from them – ie discounts, notifications of new product or invitations to events.”

For the owner of a jewellery business, such as Breen, branding is important to stand out in a crowded market. But, one reader asked, what part does branding play in customer loyalty? How should small businesses start with branding, and what should they prioritise?

Breen shared some practical advice: “Branding should help your business be identifiable. I started with a great graphic designer (a freelancer) and we came up with a logo and colours and fonts that embodied my business. I use them consistently.”

Wadsworth said that where to spend on branding depends on where your customers are most likely to find you – be that word-of-mouth, or a Google search, for example. He added: “It’s important to ensure that, when a potential customer Googles the name of your firm, they’re seeing the kind of positive content that will give them confidence in the brand’s integrity and trustworthiness.”

Asked for his top piece of advice for building loyalty, Wadsworth said businesses should respond to all customer reviews, including the positive ones. “It’s easy to focus attention on addressing negative feedback, but it’s also important to give a thumbs up to customers who’ve taken the time out of their day to highlight a great experience.”

Densley offered a valuable final point: “For small brands it’s often all about the story – if they can differentiate themselves from the big faceless brands out there and connect with consumers on an emotional, more personal, level.”

Source: The Guardian