Building loyalty through service
What really builds customer loyalty to a retail brand? Its promises? Its branding? Its content? Or is it the services it offers which actually improve its customers' lives?
I was a customer of First Direct bank in the UK, a brand renowned for its commitment to customer service - their call centre was based in Scotland and my calls were always answered by a real person within 3 rings. No automated queuing, no having to guess what to ask the robot on the other end just to get through to someone - an actual, real life human would answer the call and help me with my enquiry. I had no relationship with them beyond this - no social media interaction, no email - but this commitment to service was enough for me to become extremely loyal and tell the world how highly I regarded them.
Meaningful, committed relationships aren’t just about the superficial attraction - they are about what each partner delivers for each other and their follow through on delivery of promises. Building loyalty through service is nothing new but in this digital age it’s becoming crucial for online retailers in order to differentiate themselves from others in a crowded marketplace. As more and more sites reach the ‘best practice’ standard retailers need to start looking at other ways to build customer loyalty and optimise conversion. Customer service in this context isn’t about ‘have a nice day’ it’s about tangible, value add services which help & support customer's lifestyles and demands.
Everyday I see examples of how retailers are employing customer centric initiatives to build loyalty but unfortunately too few of these initiatives are from Australian retailers. It’s not surprising since Australian online retail is where the UK and US markets were about 3-5 years ago and those markets have now matured to the extent that brands can begin to look beyond just building ecommerce platforms to developing services which set them apart from the competition. Retailers in these markets are providing services to their customers which make online shopping more convenient, more immediate and more transparent.
A few examples that have caught my eye recently:
Warehouse, a UK high street female fashion retailer, now offers its customers an amazing range of delivery options for their purchases. It has recognised that customers don’t want to wait for their orders for 3 days and that impulse buys for that night or that weekend were not possible to fulfil through its online channel. It has responded to this insight by offering its customers delivery at a time that suits them - standard, overnight, same day ‘get it tonight’ and most astonishingly of all ‘Within 90 minutes’ - yes you read that right, within 90 minutes. And the customer pays a maximum of £7.99 for this service. Amazing. This is an excellent example of a retailer utilising its network of bricks and mortar stores to create an incredible service for its customer - a true omnichannel implementation. There’s no reason why this couldn’t be offered by retailers in Australia within the 5 capital cities.
Fashion retailer ASOS has embraced a new service in the UK called Collect+ which is a network of local shops (think milk bars) which act as parcel delivery and return centres for online retailers. ASOS customers can choose what local shop they want their order delivered to and can even use this shop to send back their returns. This provides customers with the convenience of choosing a local pick up point and also gives the local shopkeeper additional revenue and business. A genuine customer centric model which benefits all involved.
John Lewis lives by its mantra of ‘Never knowingly undersold’ - it promises to match any price within a certain radius of its stores. It noticed an increasing number of customers using their mobile phones in its stores to compare prices - rather than react defensively to this John Lewis is actively encouraging it by rolling out WIFI to all of its stores. It wants customers to compare prices as this only gives more credibility and transparency to its brand promise. It will also use the network to provide customers with more information on products and even serve them offers and discounts. An example of customer centricity where the brand is truly living its values.
These are all examples of brands using the possibilities of digital to deliver amazing customer experiences. Experiences that will deliver ROI through increased sales and increased loyalty - no cries for the government to intervene to help them fight off the online onslaught, no complaints about the new paradigm but instead a recognition that things have changed forever and retailers have to adapt to what their customers want. Move over content, the customer is king now.