By Mike Elliff
To say 2020 was a challenging period for business owners is more than an understatement. For the first few months of 2021, the UK was still in Lockdown, and with restaurants, pubs, cafes and retailers forced to keep their shutters closed and business conditions remain tough.
But one positive shone through all the doom and gloom – as our worlds shrank, the UK found a new sense of appreciation for local businesses. Cynics may have thought a national lockdown, temporary closure of thousands of independents and the inability to deliver in-person customer experiences would’ve made it near impossible to build and retain loyalty. But we’ve seen the opposite.
Our recent research has revealed the UK spent an estimated £7.2bn supporting local businesses in 2020, with more than 40 per cent consciously making an effort to back their local independents.
As we begin to see a future beyond the pandemic, SMEs are presented with a unique opportunity to harness the current surge of support to help them boost their bottom line by building and retaining a robust sense of loyalty.
After months of intermittent lockdowns, regular changes to Covid rules and interrupted supply chains, communicating effectively with customers has never been more important. As such, developing ways to keep your customers in the know should be a key business priority.
If you’re lucky enough to be able to stay open, make sure you’re shouting about it; people might not realise they can come and see you
If your business has been forced to close, use the power of social media and email marketing to let your customers know how they can support you. Keep your website up to date, if you’ve moved into selling goods online or offering click & collect, make sure you’re sharing regular updates with customers – from comprehensive confirmation emails at the order stage right through to delivery.
If you’re lucky enough to have been able to stay open, make sure you’re shouting about it; people might not realise they can come and see you.
As a small business, one of the most powerful assets you have over larger competitors is your ability to connect with your customers on a personal level. Social media can be a crucial tool in creating that connection and, with consumers spending more time scrolling than ever before, it’s worth giving your online presence a bit of a revamp.
Loyal customers will be familiar with your tone of voice and you should carry this through to your online communications, reminding them exactly why they love your brand. Where appropriate, share personal stories behind the business or highlight the heroes amongst your staff.
Develop a content plan, post regularly, and make sure to stay on top of community management – replying to comments and direct messages will keep customers in the know and give people a reason to keep interacting with you.
There’s been a huge shift in customer payment preferences recently, with 21 per cent of those polled in our research citing the ability to pay by contactless as a motivator in supporting local
Remember that not every social media platform will be the right fit for your brand so take the time to figure out where your customers are – be it Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, TikTok or even Clubhouse– and meet them there.
The pandemic has impacted us all, so make sure you don’t ignore the effect it has had on your customers. Think outside of the box, consider what challenges they might be facing and what you can do to help.
Meeting new consumer needs and ensuring a high level of customer care will be imperative in gaining and retaining customers. For example, consider implementing contactless delivery methods or having the ability to take remote payments for those who are self-isolating.
There’s been a huge shift in customer payment preferences recently, with 21 per cent of those polled in our research citing the ability to pay by contactless as a motivator in supporting local.
Get your loyal customers to shout about you to drive more business. Make sure to take advantage of online reviewing platforms such as Google and Facebook and encourage or incentivise patrons to give you a strong review. Not only will this help to retain existing customers, but online reviews are a key motivator in attracting new customers through virtual word of mouth.
Screengrabs of positive reviews can also be repurposed into social media content, making your followers immediately aware of your five-star offering.
Once you’ve got all these steps in place and created a loyal customer base, finding a way to say thank you will be appreciated and keep them coming back for more.
Our research highlighted schemes that build on word-of-mouth referrals and provide discounts for family and friends can be particularly successful – with 23 per cent of consumers polled suggesting such incentives to be a key motivator in shopping local, the third most popular response among respondents.
Why not think about installing a database that allows you to track customer birthdays? Offering freebies and gifts on special occasions can yield strong results and help create long term brand ambassadors.
Access to customer insights though payment terminals can also build brand loyalty – giving business owners knowledge of successful products and services and accurate, real-time customer profiling.
You don’t have to be open for physical trading to reward loyalty either. As well as being integrated at online checkouts, loyalty schemes based on a future promise of reward for purchasing items such as gift cards can provide a win-win situation – boosting your cash flow in the short term and providing a reason to visit your business once restrictions lift.
Mike Elliff, is CEO of Tyl by NatWest