Business development 6 February 2017

How to build long-term relationships with your offline customers

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Point-of-sale systems give retailers the chance to combine offline and online offerings

Writing for Business Advice, founder at The Good Till Co. – a new data trend platform for owners of cafés, restaurants and bars, Oliver Rowbory, shares his tips for creating a loyal base of offline customers.

While the growth of the internet has meant customers are more savvy than ever before, it has also led to a decrease in their loyalty towards offline businesses.

It’s now so easy to shop around that, sadly, the days of customers automatically returning just because they bought from you before are over.

It is therefore vital that every offline business spends some time considering the ways in which they can build a loyal customer base and capitalise on the connections they have already made with real people.

Value your existing customers

It’s well known that a company will almost always find it easier to sell to an existing customer than a brand new one.

Regular, long-term customers don’t require any “heavy lifting”. They are likely to not only spend more but also be easier to deal with. They know your processes and what to expect from you, based on their previous transactions.

Through online sales channels, smart businesses now have access to the kind of data that allows them to understand their existing customers better than ever before. The smartest of online businesses now understand their customers’ behaviour to the point that they can almost pre-empt what each individual will want, and when they will want it.

What’s also important about existing customers is the marketing they can do for you via word of mouth. If they’re coming back then crucially they may also recommend you to others, and this word of mouth is one of the most powerful forms of marketing you can utilise.

Both online and offline businesses can now take advantage of the fact that the whole world is connected through the internet. Online reviews and recommendations are as close to free marketing as you can get.

Word of mouth recommendations online can build reputations, but they can also break them as customers are much more likely to report on negative experiences rather than actually recommend something.

In the new world of recommendations and reviews, the pressure is on to not only keep current customers happy but also go the extra mile to offer a service that enables you to stand out from the crowd.

If you want people to ‘Like,’ ‘Share’ or ‘Retweet’ your company communications online, you must become a brand that they’re proud to be personally associated with.

People power

Interaction with real human beings is increasingly scarce in the online world, but people really do still like to buy from people. This scarcity of human connection makes it a more powerful thing today than ever before.

You can take advantage of this and make your offline business stand out by the ways in which you deal with your customers in person, rather than via computer or smartphone.

This connection with your customers is vital. In the same way that online businesses use data to personalise messages and offers to their customers, offline retailers must also play to their own strengths and make their customers feel valued as individuals. This isn’t an easy thing to do, but the rewards are huge.

One important thing is to focus on having positive, well-trained staff so you can ensure your customers have a good experience.

Making customers feel valued doesn’t have to stop at polite smiles, though. It’s also important to use the various ways of collecting offline customer data to offer personalised service. The kind that people will talk about in a positive way.

This collection doesn’t have to be invasive, either. In fact, if you’re offering something that will genuinely make their experience nicer or easier, customers will generally be willing to share their details with you.

But don’t abuse that trust – as soon as you start flooding their mailboxes with irrelevant, untargeted marketing, you can quickly turn a good customer relationship bad.

Rewarding loyalty

A lot of customers have reported the benefit of offering regular special events. This allows them to target certain segments of their customer base in the offline world, and make their brand feel more relevant to them personally.

Of course, you will need to put in a certain amount of investment to get this going, but the time and money you expend will prove worthwhile if your customers do engage.

Campaigns such as these will differentiate you from the competition, build loyalty and create the kind of word of mouth that will bring in new customers.

Loyalty schemes like the Boots Advantage Card have been a game-changer when it comes to offline stores using data to build relationships with customers.

Of course, many small business don’t have the resources to build a loyalty scheme that’s comparable in size with this, but there are more and more types of loyalty programmes in the market that are commercially viable for businesses of all sizes.

Offline retailers need to recognise the value that data can bring, and aim to integrate the data coming from different touchpoints so they can work smarter. For example, integrating loyalty platforms, point-of-sale systems and stock management software allows an offline business to recognise and reward customers effectively.

You can start building a long-term relationship right from the first contact, then start to add value to them as individuals, build loyalty and create a powerful human connection.

Ultimately, loyalty is the name of the game, so you must combine your offline strengths with your online savvy if you’re going to thrive in the long-term.

Oliver Rowbory is co-founder of The Good Till Co. a cloud-based POS system that gives independent retailers, bars and cafes access to powerful data intelligence.

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