Four ways to use social media to boost customer loyalty

Marketing experts reveal secrets to leveraging social media to attract and retain loyal customers

In the third instalment of our customer loyalty series, we look at how to utilise social media in modern customer loyalty and engagement. You can find part 1 and 2 of the series:

There’s no doubt consumers have become increasingly demanding around how brands engage with them via social media platforms. And the pressure is on marketers to quickly adapt their communications and engagement strategies if they hope to transform social interactions into customer advocacy and loyalty.

A recent social media study by Sensis revealed social media is a critical way in which the public, business and governments are communicating. Almost 50 per cent of consumers now access social media every day, a figure that rises to 79 per cent across the 18-29 age group, the report found.

But despite this trend, the report showed only 31 per cent of SME businesses actively operate a social media engagement strategy to boost customer loyalty.

In addition, only a third of businesses have a social media presence compared with 68 per cent of consumers, indicating more than twice as many consumers appear to be engaged with social media than businesses. This means there is a significant opportunity to leverage social media to connect and communicate with customers.

Using social as a customer service channel

Social media has revolutionised traditional forms of customer service interactions, and has become a customer service tool, often replacing traditional email or phone conversations. Appliances Online CEO, James Fleet, said the online retailer uses social to increase customer loyalty primarily by using it as a customer service channel.

“We use social to increase customer loyalty by providing fast and accurate support to questions,” he told CMO. “We treat a Facebook message the same way we do an email or phone call to our customer service team.”

Fleet said the company also uses customer feedback to better understand how it can best serve its customers through all touchpoints including social, online channels and traditional offline channels.

“Whether it be the products we promote from our suppliers, the features we offer on our website to assist with research, or our phone and delivery service - they all impact satisfaction and loyalty,” he said. “We truly believe improving customer service is the key to loyalty. Happy customers will come back time after time, so we work hard to make sure we listen to customer feedback and make changes and improvements based on that feedback.

“As a point of difference, each week a large portion of our team also send out handwritten letters to a selected range of customers who placed a recent order.”

Create a community

Experts agree social media channels like Facebook and Instagram can be excellent avenues to build a tight-knit community around your brand to enhance customer loyalty and a feeling of brand ‘belonging.’

According to vice-president of retail software solutions provider CitiXsys, Paula Da Silva, social networks and loyalty are intrinsically connected because they essentially turn into virtual customer networks.

“Social becomes a community where brand followers can interact, leave reviews, or share content – and it’s vital that these virtual networks are nurtured and leveraged appropriately,” she explained.

In order to kickstart such a community, Da Silva suggested marketers set up fan pages and online communities that provide access to relevant information.

“These could include promotional offers and exclusive online-only events or contests that only members of the social network group can participate in,” she said. “This will create hype, and then you can complement that through the creation of community, by always ensuring you acknowledge and respond to fan comments. With these few simple steps, social channels can become an integral part of any loyalty program.”

Da Silva stressed being agile and adaptable are other key attributes, as social channels themselves are constantly evolving.

“Retailers need to have marketing and digital experts who are on top of the latest trends, able to understand how each channel works, and how their brand should be interacting with each of these different audiences,” she added.

Invest in a dedicated social team

With social media becoming a centralised customer touchpoint, forward-thinking brands are investing more in internal teams focusing on social media management and providing consistency in customer interactions.

“Because of its simplicity and immediacy, social media has paved the way for businesses to create the two-way dialogue customers now demand,” managing partner of customer engagement agency OgilvyOne, Michelle Holland, said. “Social media directly connects with customers in a very personal and timely way and helps build emotional bonds with the brand.”

According to Holland, social media has rapidly had a profound impact on the level of service customers expect.

“All businesses need to ensure they are set up to respond. It’s not enough to simply ask your call centre to monitor Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Snapchat or Periscope - or whatever’s next,” she said. “Instead, business needs specialised teams who understand customer needs in these platforms and have specifically trained staff in order to provide consistency.

“The most important thing is to ensure your customers feel heard. That their concerns - or compliments - are acknowledged and you respond to them.”

Keep it authentic, consistent and targeted

Investing in social media to attract and sustain customer loyalty does offer small businesses and startups the opportunity to quickly become disruptors if they leverage all channels effectively, often to the detriment of larger corporate competitors. But despite the fast-paced demands of social media engagement, experts highlight the importance of ensuring consistency with brand familiarity both offline and online.

“When customers find a supplier who consistently delivers, they stick with them,” Beaumont Tiles’ managing director, Bob Beaumont, said. “Often it is not, however, that wholesome loyalty of old where people were loyal for loyalty’s sake, it is more of a self-centred loyalty where they keep going back because it is the way they will most likely achieve satisfaction. There is also the comfort factor where familiarity makes it easier and more comfortable to deal with a certain supplier.”

According to Beaumont, online and offline social media is driving style, quality and lifestyle as high values.

“We see customers giving loyalty to those businesses they perceive giving them loyalty back, but it is just as easy for them to fall ‘out of love’ with that current hero,” he explained. “While social channels are very useful and vital for building brand awareness and image, they need to be considered in the light of potential clients and their values and needs.”

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia, or check us out on Google+: google.com/+CmoAu

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