Customer loyalty: every company needs it for growth and long-term sustainability, but some are better than others at earning it. Let’s examine what it is, and the best ways to obtain and nurture that loyalty.
Customer loyalty is part logic and part emotion. A customer’s ability to logically evaluate product quality and value is the first factor in growing a long-term relationship, while treating them well and providing a reason for customers to believe in your brand goes a long way in establishing an emotional connection with customers. Consumer-facing brands work hard to appeal emotionally to consumers and examples of their efforts can be seen across television, print ads and through social media. While it may seem difficult to establish an emotional connection with customers purchasing your ingredients or considering stocking your finished products, it’s not as tough as you may think. Companies that convey honesty and a deep connection to their products and the manner in which those products are produced drive customer loyalty on an emotional level, no matter what type of products they sell or in what channel.
Loyalty Starts With Product
All the extra things you may do to promote a product, build a brand and entice customers to take notice come after the countless hours of work that go into making a great product. Whether you make finished goods or ingredients, the process used to produce a product that simply performs as promised is the most important element in building a loyal customer base. No matter what your marketing strategy entails, customers won’t return if they’re unsatisfied with the quality of a product. Customers aren’t surprised or impressed that a product works. They expect it. In fact, gaps in product quality can lead to the antithesis of customer loyalty, compelling one-time customers to share their bad experiences very publically. The hard work that goes into producing safe and effective products consistently becomes the foundation of your customer loyalty program, and ultimately the most important reason your customers will return to your brand despite a highly competitive marketplace.
Price Doesn’t Create Loyalty
While being price competitive is important, don’t expect to build long-term customer relationships by being the most inexpensive offering available. Price-based purchasing is primarily transactional, with customers viewing products as commodities. In a commodity-driven purchase, customers are willing to compromise on many other product aspects, even quality, to chase the cheaper alternative. Price is just one factor in a purchase decision, especially in the nutrition industry where effectiveness and safety play such a critical role. In terms of building customer loyalty, it is often the non-price driven factors that make the difference in maintaining existing customers.
Trust Leads to Loyalty
While offering a safe, effective product is the first step in building customer loyalty, finding ways to build a deeper connection between your customers and your brand will build the emotional connections necessary to foster long-term brand loyalty. Customers who appreciate a product’s quality are more likely to suggest the product when they are asked for input, but true brand advocates, the people who actively spread the word about a great brand because they’re genuinely enthusiastic about it, usually connect with the brand on a deeper level. They are the customers who bring up your product in conversation with colleagues, not because they were asked for their opinion, but because they feel good about being connected with the brand.
A great example of a company actively building brand advocates is Zappos, the popular online shoe retailer. The now legendary customer service approach adopted by Zappos requires all new employees to spend time answering customer calls to gain a true understanding that every position in the company is ultimately in support of its customers. Its policies make it easy for customers to order several products to try on at home, and return what they don’t want without a high price. Easily accessible reviews help shoppers make informed purchasing decisions. The company also surprises customers with upgraded next-day delivery from time to time. This customer-centric approach has made them the go-to website for many online shoppers, and a website its customers are quick to recommend to their friends and their “friends” online. Zappos builds loyalty by making it easy and pleasant to buy from them, and that’s something every kind of business can do. The entire experience builds loyal customers who actively promote the brand.
The aspects of your brand that will help make customers feel great about doing business with you often go back directly to your company’s mission statement and the very reason the brand was created in the first place. Providing customers with an inside look at how products are produced and what principles guide the business helps build trust and, ultimately, loyalty. We all know that loyalty is important to retain customers, especially in the midst of a competitive environment. Putting in the extra effort to consistently provide great products and to finding ways to build an emotional connection with customers takes work, but the result are customer relationships that endure.
Customer Loyalty in Practice
In a business-to-business environment, building brand trust and prompting your customers to establish an emotional connection to your brand is not so much about launching fancy advertising campaigns and influencing customer opinion across social media as it is with consumer brands. Fostering customer loyalty in our industry is more about being transparent and helping customers. A straightforward approach to showing customers why they can believe in your products and going the extra mile to help them succeed as part of the relationship will go a long way in establishing trust and loyalty.
Three Ways to Create Loyal Customers
1. Tell Your Story
There is a reason why face-to-face business meetings still exist despite a myriad of other cost-saving ways to meet, including Skype, email and screen-sharing software like Join.me. In-person meetings facilitate a connection and resulting bond that goes deeper than online alternatives. While it’s impossible to meet every visitor that comes to your website, you can tell your story in an engaging way that aspires to offer more than just product information. Your website should clearly convey your company’s mission and the care that goes into serving customers.
Your story should also provide customers a peek at your production process and the quality measures taken to ensure effective finished goods and pure ingredients. Remember, an effective story engages its audience and keeps their attention. Look to short video clips or graphics-driven methods to tell your story to get the attention of your audience. A short video is a good example of a story telling device that can be produced once and used on your website, at tradeshows and in email marketing campaigns. Yes, you can make your cGMP (current good manufacturing practice) compliance interesting, and even entertaining! The purpose of telling your story is to ultimately demonstrate that the care put into your products and the support you provide will help customers succeed.
2. Use Email to Build a Loyal Customer Community
Loyalty means communication beyond that required during a purchase cycle. As you make contact with customers and prospects, begin building an email list and use it to reconnect with information your list finds useful. Helpful information is a world apart from advertising or spam. Since you are already thinking constantly about customer needs, reaching out on a regular basis with the intention of helping your customers demonstrates an understanding of their business and a willingness to help them succeed.
Emails to customers can highlight industry best practices and showcase some of your best clients. If your products are sold directly to retailers, product training information and ideas to help promote your products to retail customers are especially effective. You can also use your emails to frame industry issues and provide a perspective to help your customers understand new developments. If done correctly the emails will demonstrate your industry expertise, become a valuable knowledge resource for customers, and keep your company “top of mind” among your clients.
As valuable as this information may be to your customers, growing a loyal community through email marketing also requires incentives. Rewarding your customers occasionally with an exclusive product discount or an industry-related drawing or giveaway like a free pass to a popular tradeshow event will keep your email community engaged.
3. Listen to Customer Feedback and Act
Perhaps the most important factor in maintaining customer loyalty is listening to customer needs. Every company should strive to listen and act accordingly when a customer approaches with a complaint or an issue that needs resolution. The opportunity to build loyalty lies in actively approaching customers to solicit feedback and improve processes. Having an open dialogue with customers and taking real steps to evolve your business based on feedback goes a long way in deepening the customer relationship.
Gathering feedback starts with being focused on your customer’s idea of success. Companies selling ingredients or services to finished goods manufacturers can schedule check-ins at regular times to align goals and think about the partnership on a long-term level. Finished goods manufacturer’s can use their email list and sales force to contact retailers and build a list of initiatives that will help stores sell more units.
Growing customer loyalty is ultimately about partnership and mutual success. Customers who engage with their suppliers beyond price and product specifications come to see the supplier as a provider of safe, effective products, as well as a resource to help them succeed. NIE