By Mark Bower, MD of digital agency Coolpink.
The customer is king so engage them with an experience fit for royalty. Gone are the days of admiration for shop windows and acceptance of repetitive brochure sites. Today's consumer prizes customer service and their own time above all else when shopping online but most brands are not delivering on these demands.
Maintaining great customer relations requires something of a 'cult' instinct. Disregarded by many, but cultivated by true believers, an unadulterated commitment to customer service sets brands apart from competitors.
Personalising your online strategies can open up powerful opportunities to increase your ROI, retain customers, enhance your brand image and generate free word-of-mouth marketing.
Personalisation is key to keeping the consumer engaged with your brand, and therefore must remain at the heart of your digital strategy.
Calling on some of the best 'cult' status films from the last decade for illustration, here are a few insights that might help it all become clear.
1. Rita, Sue and Bob Too – know your audience
Find out who your target audiences are; every variation, then ask yourself why they choose your brand, and how it is you can help. Do they want information? To purchase? Or simply want interaction with the brand? Anticipate their needs and begin building your relationship from day one.
Offer them related products or give them suggestions i.e. 'other customers also viewed...' Also examine where your customers are in their buying cycles and present content to them that will suit their needs.
2. Seven – understanding decision making
The main component to consider for any online business, is the 'end-user'. Users are the central 'cog' in any online business, around which the website should revolve. Every brand needs to understand why their users make the decisions they do, in order to predetermine an effective strategy which will lead consumers towards purchasing, engaging and re-visiting.
3. It's a Wonderful Life - ensure efficient customer care
Greet them every time they log in and be just as accessible online as you would in person. Ensure you employ plenty of customer service reps to answer calls throughout the day, just as you would a sales assistant 9-5. Aim to respond to all email queries within the working day, if not sooner. Personalise the e-mail, attaching a contact name, e-mail address, and phone number to use if your customer needs further help. Integrate an application on your website so customers can leave their contact number for you to call them back..there are many options out there to make people feel like you really want to service them.
4. The Matrix – create a virtual reality
Taking personalisation quite literally, look to computer games for inspiration, turning your customers into their very own virtual self. Allow their virtual character to roam the site. For fashion brands why not enable customers to key in their body dimensions and shop to suit those? Create a custom mannequin within your online store and allow the customer to try on outfits. For non clothing brands, provide something which allows the customer to test your product just as they would instore. The importance is in providing the shop experience online, so customers get a 'feel' for the product without actually touching it.
5. Human Traffic - go overboard with social interaction
Websites are now required to be communication channels, ways in which the customer can engage in a conversation with the brand itself. Social media alone is by far the most relevant example of free advertising through word-of-mouth.
Keep up to date with social media, keep your status updates and tweets regular and relevant. Provide advice, offers and exclusive opportunities to your followers. Allow customers to chat to one another about the products available, comparing previous purchases and discussing future ones. This will lead to recommendations being made.
6. To Kill a Mockingbird - treat every customer equally
Anything that is offered online must be honored instore, for example online gift cards and certificates. Reassure the customer that any item will be possible to return both through the post or at one of its stores and that refunds and exchanges will be honored efficiently, regardless of the place of purchase. This is about reassurance to put your customers at ease any remove any objections they might have about shopping with you online.
7. Me, Myself & Irene – 'individualise' your customers
Customers may have similar interests, but remember they are individuals. Add personalised touches to your consumer interaction that are individual to them such e.g. mailers, offering birthday discounts or gifts. When new products launch related to their previous purchases, send them a message 'thought you may be interested in this...' Customers love to feel valued, so give them something back.
8. The Good, The Bad and The Ugly - user-generated content
It is widely acknowledged that adding customer reviews to a website has direct benefit. Customers want to feel part of the brand and therefore deserve acknowledgment for taking time to provide an opinion on your product. Personally thank everyone for their review, but be creative, think of another media other than email. By publishing this, the customer is becoming part of your team, so treat them like it.
9. 300 (IMAX) – enrich your media
Take your audience on a customer journey using rich media such as videos, zoomable images, and 360-degree views. Generate an emotional attachment which will resurface whenever they are reminded of the brand; be it through conversation or sight of the logo. Create a lasting impression by tapping into a variety of senses, making your website the most memorable out there.
10. The Italian Job - consider the finer details
Don't go to all the effort prior to purchase and then forget the rest. Review your checkout process to ensure it's not too complicated or long winded. Unnecessary information requirements will just put the customer off. Allow the customer to track their purchase easily online and over the phone. Really consider attention to detail where your packaging is concerned. Mirror your brand, its image and audience with its packaging - quality products deserve quality wrapping for quality people.
By knowing your online audience and understanding what it is they really want, you can create a lasting impression, build a lifetime relationship and dramatically increase repeat business. Whilst the perfect customer experience cannot guarantee an instant sale, it certainly helps.
Join the cult of 'customer lovers', give them what they want, and we're pretty sure you'll be hooked on the results.
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