It seems like just last week we were suggesting companies take their 2016 business development budgets and dump all that money into customer loyalty.
But time flies, and that was all the way back in January. Oh, to be so young and carefree like we were back then!
All joking aside, 2016 has been a busy year, with moments of intense triumph and scary chaos across the globe. Consumers continue to hang on by the grit of their teeth, and businesses are fretting about change in the face of advancing automation and virtual reality.
All of which means the need to solidify customer relationships has never been stronger. Your best opportunity to thrive always comes from nurturing and engaging the people who are already customers or members.
That won't change, but the rules of the game evolve. People are more distracted than ever, forgetting even the best experiences. They have lots of options in every purchasing category. They're reading email less, and chatting more. They're at the mercy of the opinions of their social networks - most of whom they don't even personally know.
New strategies and tactics are needed. To keep up with the modern consumer, you have to evolve with them - and earn their attention on a regular (if not daily) basis.
As we move into 2017, consider these five resolutions you can make that will have a positive impact on your customer engagement in the coming year:
Loop in Employee Engagement
You must have buy-in from the people behind your products or services to truly earn buy-in from customers. Employee engagement manifests itself not only in direct customer interactions but also in the quality of your products, the brand. All the little things that comprise the total customer experience.
Take the time to measure employee sentiment and engagement. You'll see a correlation with turnover - not just employee turnover, but customer churn as well.
Keep a Personal Element
We talk more to our home automation robots than our own families on some nights.
Amazon just rolled out a cashier-less store.
Uber has driverless cars in select markets.
Everyday society gets a little more cozy with technology and a little less personal. But things that aren't personal are pretty easy to walk away from.
It may not be feasible for every customer to have a personal, face-to-face interaction, but you can still infuse a human element into any business. Send emails from a person (adios, NoReply@yourdomain.com). Offer a phone number with a person on the other end. Make it easy to connect with someone and provide feedback. Call and listen to people who cancel or stop being customers.
Our robot overlords are on their way, and for the most part life will improve with new technology. But personal, human-to-human touches will be your best shot at cementing long-term engagement and loyalty.
Spend Some Budget on Current Customers
Okay, so you're not going to dump your entire budget into retention. That's okay.
But you should invest more than you probably are. Add a loyalty program. Offer incentives to drive desired behaviors like sharing on social or recommending services to personal networks.
Another idea that would've seemed absurd a few years ago: spend money advertising to your customers. Develop some content that will help make your customers experts at your product or service, then make sure they see it by dropping an ad on their Facebook timeline, or use remarketing services to bring them back to your site when it's time for that next purchase.
If I told you that reading this blog for six months would improve your customer retention by 150%, would you keep reading?
Of course you'd keep reading. Then after six months, you'd know if I kept my promise or not. If I did, you'd give me another six months, or even longer.
(I'm not promising that, by the way. But please, keep reading!)
This same principle works with customers. Tell people upfront what they can expect from your product - something specific within a specific timeframe is best. Then, work with them throughout that timeframe to make sure that goal is met.
Underpromise and overdeliver. The bigger goal is to build trust and add value to what should become a long-term relationship.
Turn Big Data into Big Delivery
Every one of us is passing around our data like free candy. But are our lives improved by it?
Most companies have yet to turn Big Data into Big Delivery. Most of our data is just turned around to sell more stuff to us. To date it hasn't resulted in better experiences or personal touches.
In 2017, collect all the data your customers are willing to give you, but turn it into experiences that enhance the relationship. Loop in customers who haven't been in touch in a while with a deal. Find at-risk customers and reach out to them with a personal message and some helpful advice. Respect the glory of a clean inbox and stop sending emails every day if everyday communication isn't required.
All of those are simple changes to utilize data that nearly everyone has. Just remember to use it to improve the relationship - not just make more sales.
The sales, of course, will come naturally once the relationship is in a good place.
Form Your Team
It's a tough world for brands. The world is evolving rapidly and consumers are getting tighter with their dollars and louder with their voices.
The best way to survive and thrive is to form a solid base of engaged customers, then work on growing that base.
Start with engaged employees, connect customers to those employees, set and exceed expectations, and use the data and communication tools at your disposal smartly.
That's a formula that could work in any era. Let's go out and put it in action in 2017!