We all want them. In a connected world, earning their loyalty is more important than ever.
However, too often we've approached this through a company-centric lens. By using the amount they spend with us and the frequency with which they purchase, customers are categorized according to their current and/or future value to the brand. We then set about trying to incentivize them.
While this may help in allocating resources, it has little to do with building relationships. Customers are people. And people don't form relationships just because you view them as valuable.
Instead, I've found it better to think in terms of friends, acquaintances, admirers and strangers when building relationships with them.
This then guides the way you approach them.
1) Friends are those who have integrated your brand into their lives. It's a part of who they are. They are your most valuable customers. Not just because they will keep spending with you over time, but also because they will defend your reputation, and may even extol your virtues, to their network of friends and acquaintances.
To build the relationship, think about your own friends. You keep in touch with what's going on in their lives, and let them know what's going on with you. You look out for how you can help them, share interests with them, and sometimes introduce them to your other friends.
Translate that to your brand. Get to know them personally. Ask their opinion. Involve them in your brand, and find ways to surprise and delight them, as well as rewarding them. Use the data they share to improve their experience with you, and work with them to find ways you can be more useful to them. Continually provide examples that demonstrate your values and beliefs, and create places they can meet other friends.
Then, to nurture advocacy, ask them for help. Make it easy for them to share content and offers with their own network. Give them a public platform to share their opinion, and find ways to say thank you, if they put in a good word.
2) Acquaintances find you useful in their lives. They are happy for you to know them, and will keep spending with you. But they don't feel a strong connection.
Again, think about your own acquaintances. You keep in touch with them periodically, to let them know what's going on. But you don't force yourself upon them.
So too for your brand. Show your appreciation by rewarding your customers. Focus on using the data they share to make their experience as easy as possible. But don't bombard them with information about you, that they're not interested in. That can weaken the relationship, not strengthen it. Just provide a periodic invitation, and perhaps an occasional surprise, to encourage them to get more involved.
3) Admirers like what you stand for, and the way you behave. But you're just not useful enough to them in your lives, so they don't spend much with you.
Think about people you admire. Perhaps they’re just not available to you, or are in some way unapproachable. Or maybe, you just haven’t found the time to include them more in your life.
Again, translate that into your brand. Find out what would make you more useful to them. This may be just a question of incentivizing them to develop the habit of using you. Or it may involve making what you have to offer more useful. Keep providing examples that demonstrate your values and beliefs, but most of all, answer the question.
4) Strangers use your brand, but consider it little different to any other. They see no reason to make your acquaintance. It’s easy to pay little attention to them, but don't ignore them. Although they usually account for a relatively small percentage of sales, they are normally your single largest customer group. Among them will be future friends, acquaintances and admirers, who have only just encountered your brand.
When we come across strangers in our personal lives, we're normally civil to them, as we gently size each other up.
So do the same for your brand. Make sure the experience is as good as possible. At least say thank you at the point of purchase, even if they don't want to get involved in anything more formal. Then provide opportunities for them to make themselves known to you, if and when they become more comfortable.
"Friends, acquaintances, admirers, and strangers"may not be the traditional language of loyalty, but by taking such a human approach, you put your customers' needs and desires first...
And strengthen the relationships.