Customer Service – The Ultimate Loyalty Driver

On a week when the world is coming to terms with the death of Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, founder of Pixar and all-round visionary entrepreneur, it is pertinent to remind the world of what he achieved. He not only revolutionised the way the world used computers, he invented touch screens, the mouse and he revolutionised the smart phone. The smart phone and indeed the tablet were not necessarily new when Apple took them on, but Jobs made them iconic, beautiful, user-friendly and ultimate objects of desire.

Steve Jobs understood what the customer wanted; a thing of beauty, with amazing functionality, which was simple to set up and to use. What he also understood, however, was the importance of customer service. Before the Apple stores arrived on our high streets, particularly in Britain, service was sub-standard. Apple arrived and suddenly, that changed. You could walk into an Apple store and the staff greeted you with a smile. More amazingly than that, they understood the products they were selling. This had never really happened in a technological store of any kind in the UK before. Normally, staff in these outlets were and sadly, in the main, still are, woefully undereducated about the products they sell and disinterested in the products to boot.

Apple was different. The stores were bright, you could play on all the amazing toys in there, people took the time to help you with small queries. In addition, you could be over the age of 30 and they would still talk to you as if you had a brain and some technological sense. If you didn’t, they would not patronise; they would educate and help.

So Jobs built a brand foremost on beautiful, must-have looks and functionality, but he also understood the follow through. People love Apple products not only because they are cool, but also because the service behind the product is second-to-none. Have you ever heard anyone criticise the service from Apple? The stores may be busy, you may have to wait, but high quality service is what you get. And you get the same high standard of service online too.

So why is it that so many UK retailers fail to tackle customer service and fail to recognise it as a critical tool to ensuring brand loyalty? Yes, it’s expensive to recruit and train the right staff. But surely it’s more expensive to have under-paid, disinterested staff, who fail to engage the consumer and detract from, rather than enhance, the shopping experience? Why spend money on expensive shop fits or beautiful product, if the staff in the store are chatting in a corner, or can’t help with your queries?

John Lewis gets it right and as a result, is trusted. Their customer loyalty is built more on service than almost any other attribute in the store. Deborah Stone, Director of The Stone Consultancy, one of the UK’s leading retail consultancies, believes this is the most over-looked aspect of customer loyalty in the UK. ‘The staff are your outward face to the customer. If they don’t love the brand, if they don’t know the product details, why should the customer love the brand and why will they keep coming back? Customers want to feel informed and appreciated.’

So, let’s remember Steve Jobs as a great visionary and as importantly, as a man who understood what people wanted in terms of service. We could all learn a lot.

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CRM, loyalty and smart locations

For well over a decade, customer relationship marketing and their umbrella loyalty programmes have been a cornerstone of successful marketing and retail strategies for many of the UK’s biggest brands. Companies such as Tesco and Boots were amongst the first to establish customer loyalty programmes with sophisticated data analysis, which have grown to become hugely significant elements of their business, maximising sales and profits.

The growth of customer loyalty programs has been matched by the growing expectations of customers for marketing messages to be relevant and targeted. The digital age in which we now live means that businesses really need to understand their customers to a level that facilitates relevant and targeted marketing material to the right individuals. Get this right and not only will brand loyalty increase, but sales will be less volatile during periods of economic downturn, such as the ones we are experiencing currently.

Marketing and retail

The UK has seen customer loyalty schemes change dramatically. At first, it was largely a case of collecting points in return for money off vouchers and other rewards at individual companies. Over time, some companies joined umbrella schemes, which offer customers even more value for their loyalty by sharing set up and marketing costs, as seen with the Nectar card. So have customer loyalty schemes reached their limit?

The answer is certainly not. In fact, customer loyalty and brand loyalty schemes are really only now coming into their own thanks to technological advances, which impact on our daily lives. Of course, the one piece of technology which has revolutionised how we all do business and how we run our daily lives is the smart phone. Indispensible to almost all individuals from the moment they wake until the moment they go to sleep, smart phones, i pads and other similar technology also offer marketers and in particular, retail marketers, the chance to reach their audiences accurately and with immediacy.

Customer loyaltyTo be slightly more specific, it is the location-based software available on a smart phone that will be of interest to customer loyalty scheme providers. The more targeted your marketing messages are, the better your response will be. Customer location becomes a highly valuable piece of information, which enables you to get your message across not only to the right person, but also to speak to them in the right place at the right time, i.e. near to where they can buy from you, the retailer.

Deborah Stone at The Stone Consultancy one of the UK’s leading retail marketing consultancies, believes that companies who embrace new smart technology and more importantly, use it with the right analytics, will be the real winners in the battle to retain customer loyalty and sales. ‘The first stage of customer loyalty schemes was reward – spend your money at our store, get points, get a discount. The second stage was about multi-brand reward schemes – get points, get a choice of rewards. The third stage is all about immediacy– ‘check in’ to my brand now and get your reward now. Instant gratification for an instant sale.’

At this stage, it is reasonable to say that no major retailer has cracked combining geo-location with customer loyalty reward schemes. And it must also be pointed out that it has its sceptics, who rightly point out shortcomings, such as lack of smart phone ownership and concerns over user behaviour.

However, it cannot be denied that the number of smart phone users will only grow and that judging by the success of existing customer loyalty reward schemes, it will continue to grow and shape the relationship between an individual and a brand or business. A decade ago, people queried whether or not investing in huge CRM programmes could ever affect the bottom line. We have seen the phenomenal results from those retailers who embraced the concepts and used them intelligently. So it will be with smart technologies. The retailers who think smart will reap the rewards.

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