CX and Brand Loyalty Are Inseparable

Here’s How They Can Succeed Together

2017 is now well underway, and amidst all the predictions (see here for ours), trends and new technology, you’ve got big goals to hit. And as a retailer, you’re facing stiff competition—from seemingly endless new competitors and online-only retailers to those offering product transparency and fast fashion—maintaining customer loyalty needs to be your number one priority. All this while the pressures leading to the shuttering of brick and mortar locations are predicted to continue in 2017. Overlooking customer experience in your loyalty strategy is potentially one of the biggest mistakes retailers can make. And we’re not just talking about tiers, points, sneak peek offers or whether you remember birthdays. Loyalty is no longer just about points. Nor is it merely a department. It’s a long-term business strategy, because today, consumers aren’t loyal to programs—people are loyal to brands.

Here are five ways to navigate the trends facing retailers and how to leverage your customer experiences to build brand loyalty: 

1. Personalization Made ‘Personal’

Personalization is changing. The term ‘personalization’ has risen to buzzword status, but many retailers continue to struggle with creating truly personal touchpoints in ways that go beyond first names and closest stores. Savvy retail marketers need to think of ways to empower their consumers to make their own content choices while at the same time leveraging this collection of rich data to create even richer and more personal experiences. For example, give consumers the control to choose their preferred promotions based on their product or category choices. Allow them to influence the content, offers or messages pushed to them while shopping with you online, or serve up real-time, dynamic and relevant content in communications based on preferences, behaviors or location. Tapping into ways to give your consumers the ability to shape not just the way but also the ‘what’ will give your brand the padding to build sustained loyalty and engagement. After all, it was their choice.

2. Frictionless Interactions

One of the most commonly heard themes of this year’s NRF show was the idea that “retail’s future isn’t what, it’s who.” In this case, the “who,” they argued, is the store associate. While store associates play an enormous role in brick and mortar experiences, the ultimate “who” is the consumer. Physical locations are now the link between digital and personal experiences with your brand, and providing a level of service that anticipates customer needs in undetectable ways—both on- and offline—can foster loyalty and drive repeat purchases. And key to removing friction is being able to not just collect but also leverage the rich customer data that loyalty programs and the like provide. Whether it’s store associates armed with wearables or tablets to search, find or tailor the customer experience, creating experiences based on the stage of the customer journey, delivering on their preferences in engaging ways, or leveraging the right mix of predictive modeling, customers want to be served without, well, being served.

3. Mobile as a Lifestyle, Not a Channel

According to a recent study by Fluent, smartphones are handily surpassing PCs and other devices with the most usage, which comes as no surprise. What is surprising, however, is that mobile devices are beginning to drive more conversions than their PC counterparts. This is evidence that consumers are growing increasingly comfortable shopping on their phones, either in app or on mobile sites. But the greater opportunity to reach consumers in the moment also creates the risk of losing them if the experience isn’t just right. Retailers—and marketers, for that matter—need to cease treating mobile as merely a channel and instead find ways to incorporate it into the brand experience. Building loyalty through mobile requires approaching it through the lens of experience augmentation. And that begins by understanding your mobile customer and creating value in clear and easy ways. Start by asking the question “why” around mobile, and what it means for your brand (more on that here).

4. Instant Gratification is Changing

We’re living in the ‘Now Economy,’ which means, you guessed it, consumers want everything now. And you don’t have to look far—from Amazon’s Prime Now to UberEATS, consumers are forcing retailers and other industries to improve efficiencies in their logistics and inventory at a rapid pace without losing profitability. But there’s a subtle shift taking place in this idea of instant gratification, one in which the emphasis is increasingly more on experience and less on the product itself. Think about it: whether it’s instant access to their own data—from loyalty status or rewards balance to history and location—or being recognized by their preferred retailers regardless of where they interact, consumers now expect their needs to be met instantly and consistently, irrespective of channel, moment or communication. But—and there’s a but here—retailers have long struggled to break down the silos between their purchase channels to satiate these expectations. If delivering instantly gratifying experiences is a future-proof way of fostering loyalty, the Now Economy is yet another motivation to speed up that silo dissolution.

5. Don’t Lose (Human) Touch

With the inundation of new technologies, machine learning, marketing automation, predictive analytics and programmatic buying, as a brand, it’s easy to forget there’s a human on the receiving end of each experience and interaction. By and large, consumers prefer to shop with retailers that know them by name, remember their purchase history and recommend similar products. And while that bit goes without saying, retailers and marketers need to remember that building an emotional connection with a consumer is a two-way street: just as there is a human on the receiving end of an interaction, it needs to feel like it came from a human as well. Taking a people-centric approach to your loyalty and customer experience strategies, from program design to communications and interactions, is crucial in ensuring that you’re connecting with your customers on a resonant, human level. And couldn’t we all benefit from a little more humanity these days? At the end of the day, when you Think Like People®, both brands and customers win.