In 2018, it’s harder than ever for local businesses to stand out. Google, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are all getting more crowded and competitive every day.
So it begs the question, how the heck are local businesses supposed to stand out without spending a fortune on advertising? Thankfully, one of the best ways to cut through this haze is quite simple. It boils down to customer loyalty.
Based on a recent study by Bond Brand Loyalty, the “loyalty advantage” can bring your business benefits that no other channel (like social media, search, or paid ads) can, including:
- 81% of customers willing to return to your business if you offer a loyalty program
- 66% of people spend more to maximize loyalty benefits you offer them
- 73% of consumers are more likely to recommend your brand if it has a good loyalty program
- 10X your chances to make your customers “very satisfied” by participating in your loyalty program
So now that we’re on the same page about the value of customer loyalty – let’s dive into some ways you can leverage this “loyalty advantage” to grow your business.
Leverage Customer Loyalty on Online Review Sites
Now that 85% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, controlling your online reputation is a must for any business. To show your customers (and potential customer) you care, you should be active in responding to feedback about your business (good & bad). But you can also take it a step further, and leverage the relationships you’ve built with your most loyal customers.
Maybe you’ve seen this kind of positive bandwagon in action before. It could have been for your business, or another brand on social media or a review site. Where an unhappy customer posts about their unfavorable opinion about their recent visit. Then before the business even has a chance to respond – there’s the loyal customers. They chime in to respond to the unhappy customer. And they use their big collection of positive experiences to confidently suggest that the disgruntled customer give the business another try.
It’s really exciting to see your loyal customers team up to express their appreciation & respect for your business. And quite frankly, it can be even more effective than your business handling the negative yourself.
Of course you can’t specifically ask customers to help with this kind of feedback. But there’s several ways you can boost your odds for this kind of support from your loyal customers:
- Ask for Feedback: Continuously ask your happy (and most loyal) customers for feedback. Not only is this helpful to boost your online reputation, but you can learn what aspects of your business keeps them coming back. Then you can use this information to your advantage to either do more of what’s working, or less of what’s not.
- Choose Key Review Sites: Point customers to key review sites like Facebook, Yelp, Google, and TripAdvisor. Not only will this help you bolster your reputation on these sites, but the more time your happy customers spend on these sites – the more opportunity it gives them to be your cheerleader.
- Intercept Negative Reviews: Intercept negative reviews, when possible. This may be as simple as asking customers how their visit was before they leave. Or you can utilize different affordable software solutions that allow you to prompt customers for feedback about their visit shortly after leaving. Giving you the chance to try to win them over before they post a negative online review.
- Reward your Loyal Customers: Reward your repeat, long-time customers for their loyalty (which we’ll dive into some examples of this in a moment). The happier you’re able to keep your “regulars”, the more likely they’ll go out of their way to rave about your business.
Get Creative with Social Media to Expand Your Loyal Customer Base
Beyond online reviews, platforms like Facebook,Instagram, and Twitter can be great places to connect your community of loyal customers. And by bringing them together, it can further strengthen their connection to one another and your brand. Here’s a few ideas to help you leverage the “loyalty factor” on social channels:
- Build a Community: Build a community by pointing your customers to social channels (encourage likes, check-ins, and tagging). Most people who connect to one another on social media have similar interests and/or demographics. This means that your existing customers are often sharing content with your ideal customer. This is a great (and free) targeted marketing opportunity – especially coming from customers who are so enthusiastic about your business.
- Reward your Customers: Reward your customers for posting content about your business. This can be through contests or events. Or it can be as simple as commenting on a customer’s post about your customer’s recent visit, where you offer to buy their first round or an appetizer when they come back in next week and show this post.
- Try a Referral Program: Consider creating a referral program to get your customers to bring their friends or family in the door with them. After all, Mark Zuckerberg said it himself, “Nothing influences people more than a recommendation from a friend.” So give it a try and see how well it works for your business and your customers. Maybe you try some kind of “in-kind” referral program where there’s something in it for your existing customer and the person they’re referring. Since this benefits both parties, it makes it easy for your customers to get excited about and want to share with their friends on social networks. To get the word out, tell your customers about it when they visit you. And use valuable real estate like your cover photos on Twitter and Facebook.
- Start Positive Chatter: The more your customers share your content on social channels, the more chatter you can expect about your brand. So try to keep those conversations going by using some of the tactics we listed above. For example, pointing happy customers to social & review sites, rewarding customers (especially in unexpected ways), and offering in-kind referral programs.
Use Email Marketing to Strengthen Customer Loyalty
While social media is great for reaching a wider audience, be sure you’re not just stopping there. Take those relationships a step further, by using email. More specifically:
- The Value of Permission: Utilize the trust you’ve worked hard to build with your customers. Ask for their customers’ permission to email them with valuable information. This can be in the form of early access to new menu items or products, invitations to special events, or personalized discounts for their next visit.
- Collect Email Addresses: In order for email marketing to work, you need to build your list of email addresses from your customers. So if you’re not already collecting emails, today’s the day to start. You (and your customers) will thank you for it later. Especially as more big algorithm changes hit social media sites (like we keep seeing with Facebook recently). Email will give you a way to keep in touch.
- Personalization: Email lets you take personalization to a whole new level. And with the right tools, you can be sure you’re sending the right message to the right person – at the right time. This level of control is something that you won’t find on other channels. There are simple tools like MailChimp that can help you get started with some basic email marketing automation (for free). But there’s also more sophisticated options out there, that we can go into greater detail another time. But the key takeaway here is to begin collecting customers’ email addresses. The sooner you start building that asset (your email list) and learn to segment & personalize the experience, the sooner you can start seeing those staggering 4,400% returns on your email marketing investment.
- Preferred Method of Communication: Believe it or not, but email is still the most preferred communication method across all age groups. Based on a recent study from Adobe, 61% of consumers prefer email, while only 5% prefer social media or text. So give your customers what they want. Send them the personalized, high-value emails they crave to keep them coming in your door.
Work Smarter, Not Harder
By now, I hope you’re feeling inspired to try some new ways to leverage customer loyalty to grow your business. But since there’s only so many hours in the day, I also want to leave you with a few tips to make your customer loyalty strategy a bit easier on you.
- Easy Signup: Make it easy for customers to join your loyalty programs. Be sure you keep your customers’ preferences in mind. For example, on average 57% of Americans prefer loyalty programs on their mobile devices. That way, customers aren’t disadvantaged by leaving their punch card at home. Don’t overcomplicate things, but be conscious about what solution works best for your business and most importantly – for your customers.
- Make it a Part of the Checkout Process: Integrate the rewards into their checkout experience. Dishing out cash is usually the least favorite part of visiting any business. So put a positive spin on it. Make your loyalty program or rewards a part of the checkout process.
- Know your Customers: Collect valuable data about your customers to get to know more than their name. This is a win-win for you and your customers (refer back to the above section about email marketing). Over time, as you learn more about each customer – you can personalize the messages and offers you send to each customer.
- Track your ROI: Last, but certainly not least – is to know your ROI. Use data to track open and click-through rates for your emails. Use Google Analytics to understand the best referral channels (like Facebook, Instagram, or Yelp). Track engagement levels using the data insights from Facebook and Instagram. And concentrate your efforts where you’re finding the best success.
Leveraging customer loyalty is a powerful way to grow your business. Well-built loyalty programs can help you stay top of mind, to get more repeat visitors, increase your average customer spend, and have overall happier customers.
Offer a loyalty program that suits your customer’s preferences. And encourage customers to be a part of the conversation on social media and review sites. Then keep the conversation going. Use email to further strengthen those relationships and make your most valuable customers feel appreciated. The more you show your customers you care, the more likely they are to return the favor.