It is a buyer's market these days. With a handful of exceptions, consumers know that comparable products and services can be found from a number of different sources. Because customers have gained a great deal of insight into their own power over providers of goods and services, they have begun to expect -- and even demand -- more than ever before. These newly empowered customers are also proving to be less loyal than ever before. Businesses that fail to deliver what consumers want can quickly discover that customers have abandoned them for the competition.
Once, businesses believed that the best they could do was to create a working relationship with their customers. In the ideal world, customers would become so enamored of a company or its products that they would keep coming back and making purchases for the rest of their lives. In the mid-1900s, this type of relationship was possible and was occasionally achieved. During the 1950s and 1960s, there were instances of shoppers who would only purchase a particular brand of laundry detergent, for example, or who did all of their holiday shopping at a particular store.
That kind of loyalty is extremely rare today. Most modern customers will be loyal only if they are receiving everything they want. Desires vary, but common "wants" include the best price and the highest quality. A bonus "perk" is being made to feel special or highly valued by the business.
One thing that consumers have become less interested in is a relationship. Instead, they want to be fully engaged throughout their purchasing journey. To some, the differences between relationship management and a customer engagement strategy may not be readily apparent. Rather than a lengthy discourse on the similarities and differences, tracing the steps that a typical customer (Jane) might follow when making a purchase -- and examining the different technologies used along the way -- would perhaps be a more effective demonstration.
Step 1: The journey begins when Jane visits your website from the desktop computer in her home. She is not particularly pressed for time, so she is not overly critical of loading time. She navigates to a variety of pages, zooms in on product images, visits your "about us" page and makes a note of your physical location and store hours.
Step 2: Jane is a cautious shopper, so she decides to research the product she is considering. She searches online and discovers a forum discussing the type of item she wants. Visiting the forum, she finds a post from a user that recommends a product that is similar to the one you sell. The poster included a source for purchasing the alternative product -- a small business only a mile from your store. However, this business has only a one-page website showing address and business hours.
Step 3: Jane visits the competition and examines their product. She believes there are some differences between your product and theirs that could make your product more desirable. Using her smartphone, she makes a return visit to your site. The first thing she notices is that your site uses responsive web design and automatically adjusts to display properly on your mobile device. Navigation has been simplified and the pages load quickly. She locates the information on your product. Even though your product is slightly more expensive, it has features that make it more suitable for Jane's needs. She notices a link on your site to register for a preferred customer discount, so she takes the opportunity to complete her registration before leaving the competitor's store for your location.
Step 4: As Jane enters your store, an iBeacon recognizes her mobile phone and automatically sends her a coupon for the item she researched on your website. A clerk is notified via his wearable tech that Jane has arrived, what she has demonstrated an interest in purchasing and the specifications for the item. The clerk is now prepared to answer Jane's questions in a knowledgeable and authoritative manner.
Step 5: Jane passes by a kiosk on her way to the aisle on which the product she wants is located. Digital signage encourages her to log in to her preferred customer account to discover special bonuses. She logs in and is offered a chance to enter a drawing for a gift card. She is also given the opportunity to earn reward points by "tweeting" her current location in your store. After completing the gamification aspects of the engagement experience, she notices that kiosk also offers reviews posted by people who have actually purchased specific items. She looks up the reviews for the product she wants to buy and is happy to discover that purchasers have given it very high ratings.
Step 6: As Jane leaves the kiosk, she takes a wrong turn and begins to move away from her desired product. She is intercepted by the clerk, who asks if he can assist her. After she tells him what she is interested in buying, the clerk escorts her to the proper aisle, discussing the benefits of the product as they walk. It only takes Jane a moment to decide to make the purchase. The clerk "rings her up" on the spot, using a mobile point-of-sale system. He suggests related items, such as an extended warranty or accessories, but Jane declines. She leaves your store with her newly purchased item.
Step 7: Arriving home, Jane discovers an email from you to thank her for her purchase and including a link to download a discount coupon for an accessory to use with her new item. The email also includes a link to the manufacturer's technical support service -- just in case Jane needs assistance in setting up or operating her new item. (In a few days, Jane may also receive an email or text notifying her of a special sale or offering her a preferred customer discount on her next purchase.)
Step 8: Based on the data that you have collected about Jane, you may target her to receive ads on her social media page that you believe would be relevant to her. Your marketing efforts can be non-intrusive as well as targeted. You offer her additional opportunities to interact with you, such as customer satisfaction surveys, contests, special in-store classes or notifications of gifts she can earn as a preferred customer.
If all goes well, Jane proceeds to:
Step 9: Jane continues to engage with you on a regular basis. When she begins considering another purchase, she visits your store or website first to determine whether you sell the item she desires. She posts reviews about your product or your store in online forums and on her social media pages. Whenever she is near your store, she drops by to check in as a preferred customer to see what deals you might have for her. In short, by offering Jane a fully engaged purchasing experience, you have come full circle and established a long-term relationship with her.