Ten ways to keep your online customers loyal

Contributor - Chris Barling

A product label which says 'People buy from people they trust'

Given the cost of attracting new customers - thought to be as much as eight times more expensive as holding onto existing buyers - ensuring customer loyalty can be the difference between failure and success for your business. Chris Barling of SellerDeck gives ten pointers to help you to encourage customer loyalty when you sell online

1. Deliver on your promises

If you really give customers a great experience on your ecommerce website, they will tell their friends and they're much more likely to come back to you. So ‘walk the talk' and ensure that any promises you make on your website - such as delivery times or product quality - are lived up to

If there's anything worse than bad service, it's being told how great the service is, then finding out the opposite is true.

2. Acknowledge orders and returns

Always acknowledge every order immediately, or customers may think something has gone wrong. Use the auto-reply feature in your ecommerce package or send a personal email.

Also acknowledge any returns as and when they arrive, and keep the customer informed about when they can expect their delivery to be despatched, and when it should arrive, or when their refund will be processed.

3. Keep customers informed

Tell the customer immediately if there's any issue with their order - for example, if an item is out of stock or if a delay is likely for any other reason. Take full responsibility for dealing with it.

Never blame the supplier or anyone else - it doesn’t appear professional, and may come across as a cheap excuse, even if it’s true.

If you can afford the time, monitor deliveries closely. Find out from your carrier about any items that didn't get delivered when promised. Then contact your customer to inform them, before they even know there's a problem. Customers will be impressed - it turns a potential failure into a demonstration that you care.

4. Offer personalised service

The web is impersonal, so take every opportunity to personalise your service - for example, by displaying photographs of your premises and staff with contact details. This also reassures customers that they know who to contact and how, if there is a problem.

5. Offer joined-up service across channels

Today’s consumers increasingly expect to be able to check product details and stock availability both online and in-store, and to order (and maybe return) products using whichever channel they wish - online, phone or in store.

If you don't meet this ‘multi-channel' expectation, customers will go elsewhere. Besides, research shows that multi-channel customers are the most profitable.

6. Stay fresh

Change your website homepage frequently with fresh offerings and news. It’s the equivalent of cleaning your windows and refreshing the window display in a retail store - it reassures customers that your operation is professional and cares about the small details. It also helps search rankings.

7. Sort out problems promptly

If a mistake happens, correct it as a soon as possible. Customers appreciate an email or call - and a simple apology works wonders. A small gift or discount might also help smooth out the situation.

If you have staff, remind them that it is everyone's problem if a customer is unhappy. Never let staff criticise each other - once again, it detracts from your professional image if there is in-fighting in front of customers. Focus on beating your competitors, not your colleagues.

8. Customer complaints equal opportunity

As well as exposing specific problems that need to be fixed, consumer complaints provide a great opportunity to learn and improve.

It's also good to share both positive and negative feedback with your employees. If staff are mentioned by name, pass this on for praise (but don't publish names in the event of criticism -- this sort of ‘public shaming’ is terrible for morale).

This reminds everyone how important it is to keep customers happy - and provides a well-earned pat on the back where deserved.

9. Don't be complacent

Review your service continually by contacting a selection of customers after delivery to check they are satisfied and elicit comments about their experience. If there has been a issue, you can resolve it.

And as well as providing valuable feedback on your products and services, contacting customers after a purchase gives you a legitimate chance to tell them about your other products or services, and perhaps any special offers.

Also try using a mystery shopper every once in a while. Independent customer feedback services like Feefo and Trustpilot can also help.

10. Reward customers for loyalty

In order to work in the long term, loyalty programmes should provide a genuine and unique reward. It's a big turn-off if a consumer is told by a brand that they’re being rewarded for loyalty, only to find that the same offer is available to first-time customers too.

Also repay customers for any inconvenience caused. For instance if you need to call a customer for any reason (eg for a security check), offer something in return, such as a gift-wrap service. This helps protect you without offending the customer.

The practices needed to build customer loyalty are easy to write about, but they are tough to do consistently over the years. The good news is, they can enrich the experience of being in business and reward you financially, too.

Written by Chris Barling of SellerDeck. Ecommerce content edited by Chloe Thomas of eCommerce MasterPlan.

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Chris Barling

Chris Barling is the Chairman of Powered Now, a company he co-founded. An enthusiastic entrepreneur and business angel, Chris has a passion for helping small businesses take advantage of new technology. He has over 40 years' experience in the IT industry.

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