The Covid-19 pandemic has caused many elements of our lives to change and, as a result, the behavior that we may have previously expected from our customers will also have changed too.
Lifestyle changes such as limiting the amount we travel and staying home will have had a knock-on effect in terms of how we buy products and the physical shops that we visit. For example, while we may have visited shops and food outlets on our work lunch breaks, these may no longer be part of our daily routine - switching to online providers or smaller independent businesses, rather than those in chains and larger groups, are just two examples of trends that have emerged throughout the course of the pandemic.
Undoubtedly, as we are able to resume our previous routines as we move out of lockdown restrictions, consumer behaviors are likely to change once more.
Below, we’ll take a look at how businesses can take steps to retain any customers gained during Covid-19, as well as the importance of digital and personalization, and the key learnings that we can take from the pandemic to use in long-term strategies.
How can businesses retain customers gained during Covid-19?
For many businesses, particularly those with a strong online offering, the pandemic may have created an influx of customers looking for a new brand to engage with, as location became less of a factor for loyalty. However, with the opportunity to visit businesses in person again, it may be easy for customers to switch back to their previous providers - so looking to retain these customers in the longer term is now key.
Recent research conducted by Sitecore revealed that 61 percent of 18-to-24-year-olds (Generation Z) are less loyal to brands now than before the pandemic, with 33 percent of those in the Boomer age group also holding similar views. With 3 in 10 consumers also expecting to return to more in-store shopping as the pandemic is brought under control, there are clearly loyalty challenges to be faced in the e-commerce sector.
Ultimately, in order to retain your customers - whether they have moved to online providers from in-store experiences, or moved across from a competitor - they need to be provided with value. In particular, this should add more value than they experienced with the businesses they engaged with before.
Utilizing technology and data to create a personalized experience for the customer is a great way to ensure you engage with them in the right place, at the right time, while being considerate of their wider needs. Creating a content plan based around this data will assist you in showing up online and maintaining a strong presence through social media, website updates, and email marketing. By utilizing these channels, you’ll be able to continue to build trust and a greater understanding of your customers, which will help increase your chances of retaining them for the long term.
These communication channels are also a two-way street. While it is important for you to identify the best ways to serve your customers through your channels, showing them further insights, such as what life is like at your company, and revealing more of the day to day internal insights, can also be valuable in building a more authentic relationship.
The importance of placing a focus on advancing technologies
With footfall to physical retail stores plunging by more than 60 percent in some areas over the past year, sales have moved to become more of a digital process, with sales via video call, live chat, and social media all increasing in popularity over the past year.
As a result of companies looking for ways to overcome the challenges of being unable to see customers face-to-face, the overall pace of digital transformation has also significantly increased. The Apteco 2021 Data Trends Report showed that 9 percent of respondents adopted new technology specifically due to the pandemic, while 41 percent continued to adopt new technology in line with original plans, showing the importance of digitalization even during these significantly difficult periods.
In the face of uncertainty, the capabilities of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) are far beyond what is possible for us humans in regards to data analysis. Another aspect to consider is that such technology can help remove biases and subjective views of data, remove emotions when times are tough, and look at situations objectively where we may struggle.
As we move into the ‘new normal’ and as part of the ongoing recovery process from Covid-19, demand and customer behavior is still likely to be rather unpredictable. Some industries may be slower to recover, while others may experience surges in demand - AI and digital technologies will help to predict and assist the steering of wider decisions that will need to be made as a result, where we as humans would be much slower to react.
Key learnings from the pandemic to integrate into long-term strategies
Throughout the Covid-19 crisis, businesses have had to rapidly adapt and pivot like never before in order to survive, with this mindset and flexibility being one of the key learnings to integrate into longer-term strategies.
Although the past 18 months have been unprecedented, having the flexibility to switch approaches is a benefit to any businesses that will allow them to succeed when faced with problems in the future - whether small or large.
Previously year-on-year data may have been used to draw comparisons and spot trends or changes in consumer behavior, however, if we have learned anything during the pandemic, it’s that even data can quickly become outdated and inaccurate. In some cases, using month-on-month data, or even data from shorter time periods can be more helpful when circumstances are rapidly changing and will allow you to keep ahead and avoid falling onto the back foot.
Keeping customers at the heart of the business is also something that should not be forgotten as we move forward. With businesses pivoting and re-formulating strategies, there was much thought and discussion given to what people would want ‘now’ - which is a mindset that should continue. Ultimately, no business can survive for long without customers, so focusing on the best way to serve your customers with everything you do will help to retain them, and ensure you continue to move in the right direction.
The value of personalization
Personalizing your offering and approach to each customer or segment is a sure-fire way to provide them with better support and value. Drilling into data can help you find out the best ways to support them - for example, Google Analytics can help you to identify topics that are of particular interest, while your CRM, operational analytics, and transactional data can show you changes in spending patterns that you should be aware of.
The current statistics surrounding the increase in mobile purchasing, highlight one factor alone that you should keep in mind. With an increase in those aged 65+ now using e-commerce platforms, tailoring your approach and communications to meet their specific needs will help to improve your chances of retaining them for the long term.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is just one example of technology that can help you refine your approach in this area. By detecting elements and attributes that predict certain client behaviors, actions and preferences, deciding which actions will have the highest degree of success and developing the way it acts with each iteration, AI can significantly improve the effectiveness of your campaigns and use highly tailored approaches to service each unique customer segment.
After a period where the business world and customer habits have been so unpredictable, and many businesses have had to fight and pivot to stay afloat, drawing on any learnings and experiences and placing a focus on retaining customers will only help to strengthen your foundations as we move into the next phase.
James Alty, Founder and MD, Apteco