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The 3 Human Touches to Inspire Customer Loyalty in the Digital Age

I caught up with some old friends over Easter who used to work for one of Australia’s preeminent fashion brands. It’s a big name that we all know. They told a story of how things have changed in Australian design houses; about how once upon a time all the employees would race to kit themselves out in the brands new season’s gear before it hit the shopfloor. But now apparently, it’s the ultimate fashion faux pas to actually wear the brand you design for!
In explaining this, one of them hit the nail on the head: “Loyalty only exists in the absence of something better” 

Has the booming sophistication of Australia’s retail fashion appetite thanks to the influx of online fashion from all around the world disrupted this brand to its very core? You’d have to say yes, if even its own innovators aren’t loyal to their brand anymore!

There’s lots of talk about brand loyalty coming from positive customer experience. But it’s a bit of a chicken-or-the-egg debate for business leaders. Some agree that providing the ultimate customer experience trumps all, while others subscribe to the “happy wife, happy life” formula keeping their employees fully engaged and inspired as top priority with the expectation that this will organically motivate them to pay it forward to their customers; most I would suggest try to balance the tightrope between both without any clear strategy guiding their aims, processes or outcomes.

When the customer experience is consistently positive, loyalty to your brand, product or service is supposed to be the reward you reap for your efforts. A customer base that rewards you two-fold by keeping your lights on and doing some of your rainmaking for you through word-of-mouth (or click-and-like) marketing. But what if that’s not the case anymore? What’s going to stop your customers from shopping around for other experiences?

In the 2017 Global CEO survey, PwC names “customers” as the top out of five key disruptors; the CEOs interviewed said that “customers (will be) more disruptive than competitors”. In fact, more than half the respondents believe it’s likely that customers will replace one of their products or services with an alternative solution in the next five years. Just as my friend’s anecdote suggests, loyalty is getting even harder to win and keep in the digital age.

Customers clearly hold all the aces, so if we want to their loyalty, we’re going to have to rethink our game plan. The best or better product is not enough. Being the next big thing is not enough. Even as businesses push to redesign and automate processes to compete on a faster and bigger digital scale, this is still not enough.

The final leg of the race to win customer loyalty will take tailored, personalized human input. This is the “something better” they will be looking for. Here are the top three human elements that need to be embedded in your customer experience offering to build loyalty.

Human logic – What will help your customers, as well as their customers, make sense of the new world they’re in? Products and services that don’t just give them lots of data or options but that give them knowledge and answers that they can act on, and the ability to manipulate those data and options to build knowledge themselves in intuitive, flexible and fast ways. Not just the tools for analytics, but the expertise to be able to guide customers to understand where their information has come from and what it actually means.

Transparency and trust – The veil that separates and hides the background workings of IT and boardroom business strategy has to go. The two have to be completely aligned and open throughout all stages of making a product or service offering in order to build trust, not just with customers, but even within your own business. Amidst the relentless array of fast-evolving choices, again it’s actually the human element that will be the differentiator – customers will only stick with those that earn their digital TRUST.

Vision and leadership –You don’t want your customers to just have an experience with you, you want them to take a journey with you – the longer the better! That means opening yourself up to strategic talent and partnerships, perhaps even with competitors, that position your business as the only choice to lead and give shape to your customer’s vision for their business.

Don’t get blinded in the headlights of all things data, disruption, AI and automation. That’s what you’ll need to stay in the game. But to do it better than the rest, you’ll need to go that final mile by engaging and consistently delighting the individual human at the end of the process as well.