You are fully entrenched as part of the digital age, and have an online business. You can fulfill orders in your jammies. You are living the dream! However, unlike the Mom and Pop ice cream store you went to as a kid, where the owners always greeted their customers, warmly, do you really know your online customers? If you are solely depending upon basic customer profile information and order history, then the answer is most likely, “no”. According to recent studies, marketing departments at 80% of brands lack the proper customer data to drive effective marketing campaigns. Do you want to be part of that 80% or would you rather be part of that innovative 20% who are able to much more effectively reach out and communicate with their customers? Chances are, the latter, as that ability to really speak to your customer base will parlay itself into especially loyal customers. If you are committed to building those long-lasting, strong relationships with your online customers, here are some helpful tips to assist you:
No, we aren’t suggesting that you take some Method Acting approach to your relationship building. However, much like an actor taking on a role, you will want to have a picture as to who your ideal customer is. You can either create a customer profile or a customer persona. A customer profile is a basic, high-level description of your ideal customers, whereas a customer persona is a fictional customer with a photo, name, etc., that represents the traits most common among your customers. If you are feeling creative and want to develop a persona, ask yourself these questions:
- To whom are you already appealing?
- Who are your favorite customers?
- Who is using your services the most?
From here, describe your ideal customer, in detail: what do they wear? What are their hobbies? (Have fun with it!) Believe it or not, this information, will help you shape the voice that you use for your marketing materials, and in turn, will have the most effective communication with your customers. Why? Because you will have shown that you really know who they are and what their needs are.
The Circle (or, Cycle) of Life
Once you have created your customer profile or persona, you will be in a better position to maintain the customer lifecycle. The customer lifecycle is easily defined as the length of time and nature of a customer’s relationship with specific brand or company. Have you been a Mac user since college refusing to entertain the idea of Windows? Are you loyal to one brand of cosmetics, never purchasing anything else? You are an example of that customer lifecycle.
As a small business owner, the goal should be to have customers with lifecycles that are as long as possible. How can you do this? (How did Steve Jobs or Elizabeth Arden or Coco Chanel do it?) By maintaining and constantly improving both your product or services, as well as your marketing efforts, to keep customers actively engaged. They say it’s about the journey, not the destination and this is an example of when, as a small business owner, you will be taking your customers on a journey that will be beneficial to both you and them. To them, because they will be having their interests or needs met by your brand, to you as this will then create loyal customers who stay with you beyond a single purchase.
There’s More Than Meets the Eye
Yes, it is important to have a strong understanding of your customers purchase history and behavior, as it does provide you with the basic information you may need for marketing campaigns. However, studies have shown that less than 25% of marketing departments use additional data such as household composition, propensity scores or household composition. If less than a quarter of businesses are factoring this data into their customer relations and marketing, then that means than over 75% are not taking these factors into account. Ergo, you could put your small business and the understanding of your online clients way ahead of the curve, if you take a good look at the inherent value provided by the aforementioned information.
For example, the importance of household composition: a single person living alone has different spending power from a married couple without children. Both of those examples will be different from the family of four. Additionally, many people with families, especially women, may be more inclined to make a purchase that benefits the entire household.
Don’t be afraid to communicate with your customers beyond the basic information of their address and credit card information. While not everyone may be willing to offer up information such as their age, relationship status, et al, for those that are, it will offer invaluable additional insight into really getting to know your online customers. If you are struggling to get enough people to provide you with a bit more detailed information, try offering some incentives, such as a discount on their next purchase or a chance to win something.
Many small businesses fall into the stinking thinking of believing that because they are small, they don’t have access to all the same information or that they do not have all the same resources. That is not entirely true. While you may be using spreadsheets and not software programs that were custom made for your business, but that doesn’t make it any less valuable. Who knows, perhaps your customers will appreciate individual emails or phone calls, as opposed to robocalls or mass emails; and you know that you will be reaching out to the best possible customers. Try to see this time of being lean and mean as an asset: small and medium-sized businesses are actually at an advantage when responding to market trends. Additionally, larger businesses are prone to the attitude of, “well, this is the way we have always done it”. Newer and small businesses don’t often get stuck in preconceived ways of doing things and are often times able to take more creative, calculated risks.
By taking a more personal approach with your customers, with phone calls and personal emails, by being creative in your approach, this will serve as yet another way to better know your online customers.
So often, companies are reactive rather than proactive, responding only to request-based or inbound needs or communication. If you really want to get to know your customers, don’t be afraid to reach out to them, based on the information and data that you have been gathering and analyzing. Do you have customers that spend more during certain times of the year, perhaps in the summer or during the holidays? How would you go about encouraging their business at other times? Special offers? Do you have customers who only purchase certain items? Would offering them two-for-one deals or informing them of products that are similar be a good strategy? Don’t be afraid to open those lines of communication with your customers; as you get to know them better, you will be able to better serve them.
Again, use this time as a small business to take a more personalized approach to your relationship-building. It will pay off in large ways.
While a small business may not have access to professional marketing analysts or custom-built software to gather and track information and trends, it doesn’t mean that you can’t still really get to know your online customers. In fact, if you are willing to get creative (and, surely you must be, if you decided to be an entrepreneur), you may find that it’s easier than you realize.