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The shift from face-to-face interactions and relationships to digital interactions has been trending for some time, but the trend quickly accelerated following the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. One elusive part of the push to online interactions is how to build loyalty in a space that too often makes customers feel like just another number.

Marketers and company executives offered the following four recommendations to help build loyalty in a digital world.

Online Needs Predictive, Not Responsive Outreach

“Building loyalty digitally requires a very different approach to doing so in a brick and mortar environment, because your endeavors by nature need to be predictive rather than responsive,” said Polly Kay, senior marketing manager at English Blinds.

When you can observe the consumer behavior of in-store shoppers over a longer period of time, you can adapt, personalize and begin to develop the foundations of a relationship based on customer needs and wants and direct communication, Kay explained. But doing so digitally is more challenging. For example, if prospects or repeat customers drop out of your sales funnel at a specific stage that clearly indicates a pain point that you’re unaware of can make identifying and then correcting this part of the process far more challenging.

“To build loyalty in the digital world, you have to develop a thorough understanding of consumer behavior and how to interpret this behavior in a remote and online setting — this is not intuitive in the same way as it is in brick and mortar, but it can be done. When you know your target demographics, who they are, what they want, what bothers them, and how they want their shopping experience to look, you can fine-tune your offers and personalization to meet their needs.”

Personalizing the digital buyer experience is vital, but to build loyalty in today’s digital world, you have to go further and develop your personalization insights into building interactivity into the shopper experience too, Kay added. This engages shoppers and gives them control and ownership of their digital experience, creating a positive CX and brand perception as well as helping to boost sales, loyalty and the chances of repeat business.

Related Article: Personalization Goes Nowhere Without Trust

Experience Feeds Loyalty Feeds Experience Feeds ... 

For any brand, the heart of building customer loyalty relies on a positive customer experience. One cannot exist without the other, according to Jim Katzman, principal, CX strategy and enablement at InMoment. In today’s digital-first world, brands should be looking to customers as “free consultants” that can help evaluate the customer experience.

Leadership teams can do this by taking the time to leverage listening platforms and strategic partners to make sure that your team is focusing on the right priorities, Katzman said. During this process, it’s critical that brands hone in on the elements that are not working well to quickly pivot.

“Customers are talking in channels beyond traditional surveys," Katzman added. Social media, for example, has become an even louder voice for process validation that brands will only benefit from understanding.

Related Article: Empathy Fuels VoC Programs

Communicate Like a Human

“The best way to build loyalty in a digital world is to use social media. You can’t just use it for ads and announcements, though,” said Eric Sachs, CEO of Sachs Marketing Group. “Social media is mostly free and if you’re not using this goldmine of a tool, you’re missing out on a big way to build loyalty and brand awareness.”

Social media is how your customers engage with each other and it’s how you should be engaging with them. So, beyond just posting your ads and announcements, brands should be looking to start hashtags and respond to people with genuine, human language, Sachs explained. When someone posts a comment on something you’ve posted, respond. Respond even if it’s a negative comment. Ignoring it amplifies the negativity.

Be personable and humorous to the extent your brand allows. Don’t take yourself (or your brand) too seriously, Sachs added, recommending that brands feature and share posts from your followers that are somewhat brand related. Offer to feature people for posting certain things and comment naturally on their submissions. They’ll want to post more and will keep coming back not only to see if you chose their submissions but to continue to be a part of a community.

“Consumers, now more than ever, want to know there is a human behind the brand. Go on any popular business on social media and check their comments," Sachs said. You’ll see many fans saying that they’ve become customers just because of how the company handles its social media.

Related Article: How to Handle the Crisis of Consumer Trust

Focus on Service and Always Keep Your Word

Several marketers and other executives pointed customer service as a clear path to building loyalty in a digital world.

“Every smile counts,” said Elle Meager, founder and CEO of Outdoor Happens. “Word travels quickly if your business, storefront, website or personal brand has excellent customer service. Word travels twice as fast if your customer service is deplorable."

"So whether you run a tiny blog, a consulting firm or operate a popular SaaS, always try to 'wow' every end-user that you interact with or serve," Meager recommended. Prompt responses to emails and support requests add to the experience as well as thanking each individual who interacts with the business.

Keeping your word is an essential part of service, Meager added. “The best way to build loyalty in our digital world is to keep your word. Whether your business offers a product or promises to help solve a problem, being truthful and honest helps forge a strong, lasting impression. Loyalty is something that accrues over time for you or your business. Customer loyalty never happens overnight. That's why keeping your word with your colleagues, clients, customers and referrals over the long haul is the fundamental step for acquiring long-lasting loyalty.”