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Happy customer today, loyal customer tomorrow

Bringing new customers through the door will always be a priority for growing businesses, but that’s just the beginning.

In today's customer-centric, uber-competitive world you need to go out of your way to keep them coming back, to turn casual customers into loyal customers. Reputation is everything.

Social media, review sites like TripAdvisor, customer comments on business websites, Google's business ratings, and so on (and on …) means it's easier than ever for businesses to sink or swim because of word-of-mouth. 

Most business owners will already be thinking about trust and customer loyalty, but there are two challenges that I predict businesses will be facing in 2016. The first is how to create loyal customers and the second is doing it with little or no budget.  

As a marketing professional and a consumer of many brands, I’m not short of loyalty programmes to admire. Boots set the bar years ago with the Boots Advantage Card; John Lewis raised it when they gave their cardholders free coffee and cake; and Marks & Spencer had everyone talking when they launched their Sparks card, gaining 3.3 million members in just a few months.

But if you don’t have the resource and budget to create such reward programmes, what can you do?

Well, you’ll be pleased to know that there’s still ample opportunity to give your customers something back. We’ve looked at some of the big programmes out there and summarised the key tips to launching a successful, long-lasting loyalty programme:

1.       Make it easy for customers

It’s important to make it really easy for your customers to engage in your loyalty programme, whether it’s a regular newsletter, an occasional freebie, or a full-blown rewards programme.

Start by making the sign-up a quick and simple process. Make sure you tell the customer – in just a few, easy-to-read, quick-to-understand words - why they should bother joining your scheme: what’s in it for them?

Their time is precious, so you need to make a compelling case for customers to spend time signing up. Brands like Tesco and Sainsbury’s have it easy in that their customers need to buy groceries on a regular basis, but in other industries purchases happen less often; a strong loyalty programme can help make sure your customers return.

2.       Make it exclusive

Don't just offer a 10%-off code that anyone can get hold of on your Facebook page. If you're targeting existing customers, make them feel special (because they ARE: they’re your most engaged base, they’ve already invested in your products; they already like you).

Always put yourself in your customers' shoes and ask yourself if you'd be excited by what your business is offering. If it doesn’t appeal to you as a consumer, then it probably won’t do much for your customers either.

3.       Don’t just acknowledge your customers, get to know them

With companies like Amazon and Tesco using algorithms to predict a consumer’s future purchases, and many websites now being able to show personalised content, it’s simply not an option to be impersonalised anymore.

As more and more customers start expecting to experience their own unique journey, tailoring interactions is becoming really important for businesses. And what’s more, by driving two-way conversations with your customers you’re likely to increase the trust, and therefore the amount of information they give back to you.

4.       Think outside the box

If you’re a small start-up or you don’t have budget for relationship-building activities, there’s still things you can do to drive loyalty.

Start by thinking about the product or service you’re providing: what are you an expert in, and how can that translate into giving your customers something extra? Many brands are using this as a way to start a conversation with their audience and provide them with less tangible rewards, from expert advice on photography to free recipes, and exclusive videos to invitations to events, and so on.

5.       Take a risk and find your Wow! moment 

It's not easy to drive customer loyalty, but sometimes a risky idea can turn into a Wow! moment for customers.

I recently experienced this with Hotels.com. They have a strong rewards-based programme where you get a free point for every night you stay, and when you reach ten points you get a free hotel night. This in itself is quite impressive - something I'd previously only experienced in small coffee shops where your tenth coffee is free.

But then hotels.com gave me a Wow! moment by promising me a price match if I found the same booking cheaper elsewhere (up until the day I stayed). I did, and they refunded the difference in cost. As a consumer, this makes me trust the brand and feel confident that they want to provide me with the best (and cheapest!) experience. And in turn, I have become a loyal customer (look – I’m even telling you about it right now!)

There’s no reason why smaller businesses can’t replicate this kind of initiative and turn a promise to a customer into a loyalty-driving programme.

Allie Lawson - BT Marketing Manager