by Phil Kelley Jr.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many consumers to be wary of returning to brick-and-mortar stores, and the online competition can be fierce. When customers stop returning, business owners and CEOs are left to scratch their heads as they try to figure out why.
One of the biggest challenges independent retailers everywhere are currently facing is trying to keep up with all of the new technology to improve customer experiences, while also keeping those experiences as personable as possible. Smaller businesses are known for their friendly smiles and top quality customer service, but if shoppers are not able to see this firsthand in stores, it is easy to move on to the next brand.
As businesses transition into 2022, here is some advice for retailers on how they can bring back customers they may have lost during these uncertain times:
Customers want to talk with people, not machines.
Technology that cuts costs can help retailers in the short term, but it can also fail to take the customer experience into account. It is important for your customers to know that they can call you with any questions and be able to speak with a human representative if they want to. Online chat bots and email may be easier for some shoppers, but for those that desire human interactions, retailers need to be able to offer that to them.
Relationships are built on true relational moments.
Racking up “likes” on Facebook or Twitter, or sending and receiving canned sales pitches on LinkedIn, are not examples of really connecting with others. Relationships do not get built automatically, and leadership does not get conveyed by the number of keystrokes you make. Success is based on the value you bring to the table and comes only after investments of time and effort. A connection in and of itself is not a relationship, and for most consumers, connections are missed opportunities.
Brand communication should meet customers on their terms.
Businesses often fail to get the most out of their advertising because the connection to the customer is off in some way. For example, with online advertisements, if someone searches for a product, they soon see advertisements for that product on nearly every website they visit, even if the website is not appropriate for the brand. That can become annoying. You need to know where your brand is showing up and what kind of customers and potential customers your brand is in front of at all times. Retailers also need to know who those customers are, what their tastes and preferences are, and how they do and do not like to experience things.
Connect in a way that turns shoppers into repeat customers.
Long-term success depends on repeat customers, but too many businesses treat their relationship with consumers as simply transactional, which does not make for a satisfying relationship. The highest-value communications are person-to-person, but that certainly does not mean that your company cannot make a connection without those face-to-face communications. Amazon is masterful at forging relationships with its customers just via their website. They do it by making it easy to find, order, and have delivered products that consumers really need or want. They make it easy to find more information on the products and make it easy to return something the customer is not satisfied with.
Know that a great corporate culture results in satisfied customers.
It is well-established that an organizational culture where employees feel engaged, connected, and purposeful helps achieve financial success. This is because their attitudes ultimately reach and affect customers. To put it simply, satisfied employees tend to foster satisfied shoppers, so the time and energy you devote to creating a positive corporate culture is not an add-on to getting the job done. It is an essential part of getting the job done — or at least, getting it done well.
Phil Kelley Jr. is the author of Presence and Profitability: Understanding the Value of Authentic Communications in the Age of Hyper-Connectivity. He also is president and CEO of Salem One, which specializes in direct marketing, packaging, printing and logistics.