CUSTOMER RETENTION: A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO NAVIGATING A TECHNOLOGICAL NIGHTMARE

I’ve been working in digital for a little over a decade. I fell into the industry quite by chance.

After a thoroughly entertaining degree in the arts, I ran away to the United Kingdom in search of a bright artistic career. Within a month, I was humping and dumping paper on a binder gatherer.

A cog in a machine; printing an inordinate amount of books — for an industry that would collapse in less than 3 years.

As South African travellers of the day were wont to do, we rented a house that was far below our capacity requirements. We paid rent collectively and slept wherever space was available.

One day, a CD, promising free internet for a month, was dropped into our postbox. I’m a sucker for free, and remembered an abandoned computer I’d seen in the garage of the property we rented. Done. We dusted  off an old pentium 1, followed the the instructions on the CD, and BOOM! I was connected to the entire world. The rest is history.

What is customer retention?

In practical terms, as marketers, we have two dominant strategies and they work hand-in-hand:

  • Acquisition – This is exactly what it sounds like. An Acquisition strategy is the process of acquiring a new customer. This strategy involves finding someone who is interested in your product, or service offering, and guiding them through the sales funnel until they reach the decision to purchase from you. Simple, right?
  • Retention – This strategy is all about nurturing your existing client base and guiding them to their next purchase from you. Even easier, right?

Not so much.

So, er, how do we implement customer retention?

From a digital perspective there are hundreds of products and solutions to retain your customers. Whether it be your standard once a month emailer to your existing client base, complex remarketing strategies to keep your brand top of mind, advanced drip campaigns that serve content based on a customer’s behaviour on a website, or custom built customer loyalty apps that incentivise users to return to your stores, the choices are endless.

Do technological customer retention strategies work?

Of course they do, but there’s only so much that can be accomplished with technological nudges to get a customer to continue using your products or services. Before any digital retention strategy can be considered we need to be sure that the basics are in place.

In today’s fast paced world, with instant knowledge in our pockets, and all the graphs you could possibly want mapping your customers’ behaviour —  it’s easy to forget that the basics are not numbers;  marketing budgets; new platforms or invasive user tracking.

The most basic principle of customer retention is the idea that customers are not simply customers. They’re people. The foundation of an excellent customer retention strategy is not technology, it’s a good relationship. This applies to small garage start-ups to bluechip global brands. If you have a good relationship with your customers, building a robust customer retention strategy becomes a matter of common sense, as opposed to shopping for a product in an attempt to build a relationship.

What does it take to build a good relationship with your customers?

Over the past year I have been fortunate enough to work with some exceptional people who have an innate understanding of how to build a strong relationship, both intrapersonally, and when acting as a brand.

It’s not as difficult as you would imagine.

Act With Integrity:

Strangely, there are many brands out there which fail to act with integrity. Without integrity, both people and brands cannot be trusted, and if there’s no trust, there’s no relationship. Without the relationship, there’s no customer retention.

Be Clear In Your Communications With Your Audience:

Again, this should be common sense, but it’s often ignored by companies. Clear communication sets a level of expectation. If you’re having a service outage, or have run out of a particular product, or cannot perform a particular service in a given timeframe, let your customers know. By clearly communicating these issues to your clients you will manage their expectations, which in turn will prevent a poor customer experience. The adverse is true when we we fail to communicate. This also applies to operational changes which affect your customers. Placate all claims are simply not good enough.

Take Responsibility For Your Actions:

Whether we like it or not, mistakes occasionally do happen. Even the biggest brands are not immune to error. When mistakes do arise which affect your customers, admit where faults were made and communicate the steps you will be taking to correct the issue. Your customers will respect you for it.

Focus On Service Excellence:

A great product, and the price to match, are great for getting customers into the door, but without a high level of customer service, you will not be able to keep those customers.

In today’s current economic climate, brands and service providers are becoming increasingly aggressive on price and offering. Depending on your vertical, it’s possible that your competitors are already price matching you, every step of the way. With products and pricing being similar, your differentiator should be service excellence. People appreciate a smile and the extra effort to make them feel welcome. People become loyal to brands and companies which take care of them.

Once you have ironed out the basics of customer service, you’re ready to start tackling customer retention with big data and technological advancements. If you fail to address the basics, none of the platforms or solutions available will be able to retain your customers on your behalf.

matt team photo

Written By: Matthew Jackson (Head Of Digital Media)

Bio: Matthew has been involved in digital marketing for more time than he’d care to admit. He spends his days staring at graphs and pushing buttons while making terrible jokes. Matt really hopes  no one will ever find out that he’d probably do this job for free. Matt is passionate about paid content delivery, SEM, analytics, customer service and great cups of coffee. In his off time, Matt can be found in his garden tending to rare and unusual plants.

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