January 9, 2017
Biz Books

Keys to maintaining customer loyalty

"The Customer Loyalty Loop — Why People Buy, Buy More, and Buy Again" by Noah Fleming (Career Press, $16.99).

Draw a large circle on a sheet of paper; segment it into four equal arcs. At the end of each arc, draw an arrow pointing clockwise. Starting at the top of the circle, label the arcs "imagination before persuasion," "conversion without coercion," "experience choreography" and "happily ever after," and you have the "customer loyalty loop." Keep the circle in front of you when reading because its visual cue will emphasize how the four stages flow full circle. Here are some highlights:

Stage 1: "Imagination before persuasion" — Whether you're a retailer, in B2B or hospitality, etc., it's important to know who your customers are. Without that knowledge, your marketer's ability to create "memorable, meaningful and personal" moments and trust will be scattered and ineffective.

A helpful exercise: Ask your customer-contact staff to write down descriptions of their ideal customer. Ask them to go beyond the usual demographics and identify what's important to customers, their expectations of your product/service and how they make their choices.

If there's consistency, marketers will be able to create targeted touchpoints and stories. If there's disparity, resolve it. You only have one opportunity to create a great first impression.

Stage 2: "Conversion without coercion" turns the I-know-you messaging of stage 1 into wallet-opening action. To create that action, think about all the "experience" elements that come into play when prospects walk through your door — physically, online or by phone. Does stage 1's great impression seamlessly shift to stage 2's I-can-help you tact? How easy do you make the request for information or buying experience? Are you cutting corners on things that may affect the customer experience?

If you're a bricks-and-mortar or online retailer, you can assess stage 2 by comparing the number of prospects coming into the store with the number who purchased something. A high conversion ratio means you're doing a good job of connecting your dots to theirs.

Stage 3: "Experience choreography" deals with making the second great impression. The expectations gap (i.e. the gap between what a customer is sold and what they actually receive) measures that second impression. To see its existence, check the online reviews of your business and its products/services. Prospects check out these reviews when deciding which vendor's door to open. Your customers check them, too, to see if you're worth a return visit.

While a large gap isn't an absolute indicator (because those having negative impressions tend to vent), the response to the negatives means quite a bit to others looking at reviews. Example: I was looking at the reviews for a leaf vacuum. Reviews with low ratings all carried the following response from the company: "We appreciate your comments and will look into the issue you raised." If the company really wanted to improve its second impression, the response should have been: "We're determined to make things right. Click on the following link; fill out the contact form and we'll be in touch within two business days."

Stage 4: "Happily ever after" solidifies a customer relationship through post-sale contact. Imagine the impression you'd leave as a retailer if you called or emailed (no surveys please) a customer within two weeks of their purchase and asked about their satisfaction. Even if he/she doesn't respond, you'll be remembered because you followed up.

For B2B, Fleming introduces the 90-45 follow-up rule: Contact every customer every 90 days by phone; the top 10 percent of each salesperson's customers should be contacted every 45 days. Continuous contact creates customer loyalty, and often nips problems in the bud.

Key takeaway: There are numerous other tips for each stage; all center on maintaining the personal touch, which makes the customer loyalty loop a flywheel.

Jim Pawlak is a nationally syndicated book reviewer.

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