I don't think there's any question that it's a lot harder than it was 30 years ago when there was no real alternative to shopping locally, but I still believe there are things that we, as businesses, can do to make it less likely for our customers to hop online and leave us.
Of course, you're always going to lose a few who'll be tempted away by a competitor who can offer a lower price. But while I want to remain competitive, I don't want to enter a price war, so I simply have to accept that I'll lose a few customers this way. But for the most part, I believe there are things you can do to make your customers less inclined to leave.
In my experience, you've got to set yourself some brand values which will appeal to your customer base and actually put them into practice every day. I think the term being banded around is 'customer experience', but in my mind it simply comes back to treating your customers as you would like to be treated.
With that in mind, here are 6 words that I think can help businesses in the ever-real battle to keep customers for life.
One of my favorite TV characters, Harvey Specter from law drama Suits, says: "Loyalty is a two way street. If I'm asking for it from you then you're getting it from me." I love this quote and think it's something all businesses should bear in mind.
If you want a customer to stick with you for life what are you offering them in return? Discounts for long-standing customers? Previews of your new products or services? Exclusive access to any upcoming sales you may have a day before you release them to the world? Or just a promise that you won't give new customers a better deal? As Harvey says, it's a two-way street.
We all know it can be the hardest word to say, but if you want to keep customers for life, in my experience you do have to own up to your mistakes and make it clear that you will learn from them moving forward.
I've even heard of some companies sending a 'goof kit' - a small gift you send out to recognize that you've made a mistake - as a way of apologizing when they've messed up. This can be anything from a bottle of wine to treats for the whole team - anything to show that you really are sorry.
Over the course of your relationship with a customer, things are likely to change and some of the changes will be unavoidable: prices might go up, the way you interact with your customers may change (especially if you get new technology), or your products might alter slightly, but it doesn't have to mean the end of the relationship.
Being completely transparent with clients about why the changes have been brought in and how they'll be impacted - and ideally how they'll benefit from the changes (after all, any changes you make should ideally make it easier for your customers to do business with you) - will make them much more likely to stick around.
Not everyone wants to work with the cheapest company or even the best if their budget doesn't allow for it, but almost everyone wants to work with someone who offers them real value. If you can demonstrate how you add value to your customers' lives then you have a better chance of keeping them.
Adding value will be different for each company in each sector. A great example of a company adding value is Sweaty Betty, a premium women's sports clothing company, who offer their customers free local workout classes with local fitness experts. No charge, no commitment, no pressure to buy the outfits (the experts are 'paid' in Sweaty Betty outfits). A HUGE value-add to the customer.
I firmly believe that everything you do should be focused on your customer. Make the benefits of all your products and services really clear. I know it can be tempting to brag about how world-class or cutting edge your offering is, but it pays to talk about it more in terms of what it will bring to your audience and how it will make their life easier.
6) 'Thank you'
Never underestimate the impact a simple 'thanks' can have, after all, everyone likes to be appreciated. There's one company I deal with who sends me some cookies and a thank you card every festive season and it's definitely part of why I keep using them (and not just because the cookies are delicious!).
The companies I mention or link to in this post are just examples that I thought you'd find useful - I don't endorse them or their services. I have no affiliation with them and make no representation about their services.