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Top 5 Tips for Retailers to connect with Customers

A few days ago I was asked for my top 5 tips for retailers on how to connect with their customers, limited to 100 words.

For a topic that one could write a novel on …

Well, here is my answer:
  • Help customers solving their problem. This distinguishes and makes you found by the customer
  • Marketing/loyalty programs offer your customers value and are not mere vehicles to gather more data points
  • Simplify your customers’ life, e.g. with a card wallet instead of own app that directly integrates with your CRM and POS
  • Relevant communications at the right time, place with the right content – without appearing intrusive. For this you need to know your customer
  • Consistent communications across channels and interactions, optimized for used touch point

They probably need some more elaboration, especially the last one.

First and foremost, the reason for any business to exist is making profit for its owners. This is not equal to producing and selling things (or providing a service) with a margin. The business will succeed only if it focuses on identifying its customers needs and then delivering solutions for these needs. It is not about pushing a product into the market (mostly, consider that needs can be created by smart businesses). This thought is well in the domain of Service Dominant Logic although I am not a strong proponent.

Marketing and loyalty programs are important interaction vehicles between businesses and their customers. Both, especially loyalty programs, need to be set up to be mutually beneficial. It is not only about gathering more customer data that can be used by the company. Still good data, voluntarily given by customers, is needed to be better able to serve to customers’ needs.

It is also not about offering a better price to loyalty members. We all want a good price, but what does this help if the product does not work, as it should with no help being around?
Similarly, marketing is not a one-way talking machine for businesses but a bi-directional interaction channel between businesses and (prospective) customers. In this sense good support can be considered marketing, too; the absence of a NEED for support is even more beneficial.

At the same time it is a good idea to already simplify customers’ life at an early stage of their interaction with the business. This does not only apply to the solution for your customers’ requirements that a company provides, but also to services around. A simple example is a loyalty app that a company provides. Mostly one still needs a plastic cards to leverage any offer. On the other hand smart phones will get overloaded with apps if every business insists in having an own app. So, why not offering or participating in a card wallet system that is capable of holding multiple cards and integrates into the existing CRM- and POS systems?
This immediately also addresses another point: Connecting these systems with the location awareness of a smart phone can provide instant benefit for all involved parties. It creates more relevance because only the information is sent to a customer that has a relation to current intentions at the current time and place. The customer does no more get bombarded with unsolicited e-mails or text messages that come at the time that is given by the businesses’ campaign plans but when they can take more advantage of the offers, they do not need to sift through a variety of applications, and they maintain control by just switching off communications of businesses, if they are not interested at a time – and switch it on again when there is more interest.

This brings me to the last point of the list: Businesses communicate and interact with customers using a huge variety of channels; each of these have a number of “touch points". Every interaction between a business and a customer happens at a “touch point”. These touch points have been more limited in number and mostly less interactive some years before, but have become increasingly interactive now. Every single interaction with a customer influences brand perception and after all customer loyalty.

Examples of touch points are: Store staff talking to me, a TV ad, a Facebook or Twitter ad, the layout of the loyalty card; the web site and its user interaction design offers many touch points, even the look and feel of the goods displayed for sales are touch points, not to talk of a customer using a purchased product to add value to the own life, or service interactions.
As you can see from this list, possible interactions are very different in nature. It is fairly easy to convey different messages through different channels and different touch points. Some examples again to illustrate this point: Advertisements position a brand as a high end brand with the goods displayed in the shop in a careless manner, or having unresponsive in-store staff; or getting different or even contradicting information using different channels (calling, web site, Facebook, …). Lastly, all these channels with their touch points have different capabilities: Look at a web site vs. mobile web site vs. mobile app vs. representation on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest vs. the possibility of direct interaction with in-store personnel or service personnel.

Because communication that happens across various channels and touch points is so diverse it needs to be consistent AND it needs to be optimised for the different touch points.

picture courtesy of Jeanne Claire Maarbes /

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