Marketers are often laser-focused on one thing: Get new customers. It ends up being such a focus that any other part of the customer lifecycle gets second-shrift.
This can cause a bit of tension, as most of us know keeping customers is nearly as important as getting them in the first place. And then there’s the quotes and statistics about the benefits of customer loyalty, aka customer retention. They usually go something like this:
“Acquiring a new customer is anywhere from five to 25 times more expensive than retaining an existing one.”
“Increasing customer retention rates by 5% increases profits by 25% to 95%.”
It’s hard to ignore stats like that. It’s frustrating to pour our efforts into getting new customers, only to lose them to churn.
Because of stats like that (or maybe because of competition, or because of pressure to grow, or simply due to the awareness of all this), B2B loyalty programs are on the rise. There’s more and more examples of them working, and marketers are increasingly prioritizing these loyalty programs.
You may have some kind of customer retention or loyalty program in place already, too. Or maybe it’s on your short list for 2017. Wherever you’re at, consider testing a few of these best practices for B2B loyalty soon. Many of your peers are already putting them to work.
1. Think beyond points and discounts
Good loyalty programs are fueled by both emotions and financial rewards. They address the two types of loyalty: emotional and behavioral. If your loyalty program neglects either of these aspects too severely, you may not get the results you want.
One idea for building loyalty that isn’t connected to money? Build your brand. Be known for high standards, strong ethics and doing the right thing. A strategic partnership with a non-profit might also help.
Here’s another idea: Focus on service benefits rather than reducing your costs. There’s nothing like reducing “the hassle factor” to cement loyalty, whether you’re a business or a consumer.
2. Coordinate across departments
Existing customers interact with several departments in your company. They need a coordinated, consistently positive experience if you want them to be loyal to you. Because of this, it’s critical your different departments are willing to bridge any gaps between the different services they offer. In other words, if a customer is having a problem, the mindset of “it’s not my job” or “that’s not my department” won’t do.
3. Measure what matters
You know the saying, “what’s measured increases?” Well, here are three measurements to track for loyalty:
Repeat customer rate (RCR)
How many of your customers buy from you more than once?
Customer lifetime value (CLV)
I hope you’re already tracking this. If not, learning it will be like turning the lights on in a dark room. CLV (aka “LTV”, Lifetime Value) affects more than just your loyalty program.
Net Promoter Score (NPS)
How likely are your customers to recommend you to their friends or peers? That’s what this metric tracks.
Hat tip to Bob Murphy for defining these in his MarketingProfs article, “How to Measure and Improve B2B Customer Loyalty.”
4. Be loyal to them
Here’s an interesting idea: You owe your customers loyalty as much as they owe it to you.
It’s an idea more consumers believe than marketers. According to research from KiteWheel:
“73% of consumers feel loyalty programs ‘should be a way for brands to show how loyal they are to them as a customer.’ However marketing executives disagree; 66% believe loyalty programs are still a way for consumers to show how loyal they are to their business.“
What would this look like in action? The Harvard Business Review suggests “Credit card companies would waive late fees for customers who were on vacation when the payment was due… Airlines and hotels would renew status levels for customers who took a hiatus from traveling when they had a baby or were between jobs.”
What could your company do?
5. Be clear about how you’d like them to be loyal to you
“Loyalty” can feel like a squishy word sometimes. Don’t let it morph into a squishy metric – or worse – a squishy loyalty program. Define which specific actions you want your program to shape.
Consider picking just one thing you’d want to change about your customers’ behavior. How much of a difference would it make? How much could you reward your customers for that action? How might that loyalty action translate into other actions?
Picking the right action is the first step toward success. Get it right, and the rest of your program will fall into place… more easily, at least.
6. Develop a world-class onboarding program
OK – “world-class” is tough to achieve. But how about “aim for perfection; settle for excellence?”
Our first impressions of people (and companies) frame how we experience them later. This applies to the early stages of your marketing, of course, but it doubly applies to the first experiences people have with your company when they become customers.
7. Let people help themselves
Different people have different learning styles. Different ways they take in information. Some of us are video enthusiasts. Others prefer text.
Keep this in mind as you consider the budget for an online help center. Not everyone will want to use it (see the next point). But for those that do, they’ll expect it to be good.
So make it good. Remember: If you build a good self-help center, you’ll need fewer customer service reps. And your customers will stay with you longer. And they’ll be more likely to buy more of your services.
One idea for budgeting for this: What’s the financial value of retaining even 5% more of your customers? That’s at least what a good self-help center could generate.
Another idea: Could you personalize the content in your help center? Would an app be more helpful than a website-based help center?
8. Let people get help, too
Not everyone wants to figure things out with an online help center. Some of your customers want to be able to dial a number and talk to someone. Give them this option.
Oh yeah – and don’t make them wait for it. And definitely don’t make them regret that they called you.
9. Set up a listening station
Ever heard the stat about complaints? How for every one you hear, there are about 26 more unhappy customers who just never spoke up? Well, that’s why you need a listening station. So you can hear the people who are talking about your company when they aren’t talking to you.
This is also an ideal way to get more information than surveys can give you. It’s not quantitative data, but it can improve the quality of your customers’ experiences … if you listen and act on what they say.
The sophisticated version of this is called measuring “sentiment.” It’s something you’d want to track over time. Might be a bit too advanced for some, but if you really want to hear what’s going on, it can help.
Another way to listen: Do a customer survey. Consider offering an attractive bonus (maybe a customer discount) to anyone who completes it. Also consider making the responses anonymous. You’re more likely to get candid answers.
10. Embrace complaints
When you do listen, you’re bound to come across an unhappy customer here and there. Heck, you might hear from them directly on Facebook.
Embrace them. Angry customers are a treasure if you understand them correctly, and if you can engage them correctly. View this as an opportunity, not a threat.
For more ideas on how to do this, read Hug Your Haters by Jay Baer.
11. Be better than they expect
Ever gotten a surprise pay bonus? Even a surprise cup of coffee? It can make a major impression. Getting unexpected perks from companies is often even more powerful – sadly, we because we expect them less.
These small but meaningful “surprises” (good surprises) can build up an enormous amount of goodwill. They appeal to our emotions more than our pocketbooks. But keep in mind it can work another way. Like if your company makes a pretty big mistake, and then offers a cheap apology or money back. Customers can take this as an outright insult, and it can do almost more harm to their loyalty than if you did nothing at all.
Some common surprises companies can offer include:
- Birthday cards and gifts (not terribly original, but they do work)
- Anniversary gifts for each year they’ve been a client
- Acknowledging anything your client has achieved recently. Public offering? New location? Company softball team win? They’re all in play.
12. Create content for existing clients
I know we’re all eager to prove the ROI for our content marketing. And odds are high you’re tying that ROI to new business. But please, think post-sales, too. Upselling, cross-selling, and retention should be factored in to how you calculate the return on your content marketing.
You might also want to create content that’s only available to existing clients. Market research could be particularly enticing.
13. Go easy on the selling in your content
Really want loyalty? Really want people to read and engage with your content – by golly, to even share it? Stop the hard sell. Stop the soft sell, too.
Be useful, or entertaining, or both. That’s the sort of content people will come back to. They get enough of advertising (overt and covert) everywhere else.
Once the ideas start popping, it seems like there are as many ways to build loyalty as there are do to marketing.
Know why? Because they are increasingly the same thing.
What about you?
Has your company had any notable successes with B2B loyalty programs? Want to share your results, or even a few ideas? Leave a comment. Show us how clever you are.