How can social media be used to build customer loyalty?

The UK’s high street retailers are continuing to struggle – in September 2019 analysts recorded the highest net closure rate since records began. 1,234 chain retailers closed shop in the first half of 2019, which is more than any other period since monitoring started in 2010.

This is largely driven by the rise of ecommerce, and according to a recent study by Royal Mail, consumers are now doing 80% of their shopping online. This has had a phenomenal impact on the sector, challenging brick and mortar stores to transform their approach or risk extinction.

The average consumer is increasingly buying goods and services online via ads served to them on Instagram, sharing photos and reviews of what they consume on Facebook – then turning to Twitter to air their frustrations with products. Social media is ingrained in every consumer’s life, but there’s still a way to go for businesses who want to capitalise on its power.

Customer engagement on multiple channels, including social media must be a more proactive process – adding to the plethora of existing challenges faced by most traditional retailers.

Brands are still struggling with the digital transformation of their businesses whilst trying to grasp how to engage this new breed of savvy shoppers that are not only demanding personalised and streamlined purchase journeys but also competitive pricing and high-quality products or services.

With many brands offering multi-channel customer experiences, standing out is becoming more challenging. Brands need to build trust to earn customer loyalty and this is where social media can provide the competitive edge.

Regardless of the fact that as a country, we trust social media platforms less than any other major nation, online reputation is surpassing the power of word of mouth in creating brand loyalty. Trust is the foundation of any long-lasting relationship, yet it’s often undervalued in many client-marketer relationships.

One reason brands find it difficult to build trust is because they view social media as ‘marketing communications’ – separate from customer experience and customer service.

Therefore, to garner customer’s trust organisations need to change their approach and use three social media strategies to engage their audience in a more meaningful way.

Discover the data you’re sitting on

Retailers that want to enjoy long term success should see social platforms as an invaluable source of data. By using social listening and analytics, brands can see who their customers are, what they want, why they want it and how they want to get it.

They can then use this insight – and the specific stories – to inform their marketing personas, develop their campaigns and shape their customer experience strategies.

It’s no secret that big data will provide companies with the ability to get closer to their customers, but the challenge lies in measuring the underlying value.

Traditional metrics (likes, follows and shares) might feel good, but they’re ultimately meaningless unless companies can link them to outcomes.

A high engagement rate, for example, indicates a loyal, active base of customers – and engaged customers are more likely to buy from the brand.

Be the guiding light on the customer journey

By using real-time data insights, including those from social channels, businesses can see a visual representation of customer interactions at each touchpoint.

The right social media strategy will provide insights, which can then relate to data derived from other channels to garner trust from customers in the overall customer experience.

This invaluable and holistic understanding of a customer’s journey enables business leaders to make evidence-based decisions about streamlining the overall customer experience.

When used correctly, social media can be a powerful way to close customer service gaps, gain valuable data insights, rationalise response handling and boost the overall experience brands offer.
Connect the dots for a bigger picture

However, understanding a tangible customer journey is tricky because the data isn’t always easily accessible. The rise of multi-channel means companies are hampered by data siloes, with marketing systems not necessarily communicating with support, sales or logistics in a seamless way.

As a result, a lot of what retailers know about the customer journey comes from extrapolating an incomplete picture.

The best place to start when it comes to identifying areas for improvement is building an understanding of the customer journey based on fact, not assumption. This entails connecting the data siloes so businesses can understand when consumers are darting from social to SMS to email to website to store – and what they’re doing at each touchpoint.

The reality is that the retail landscape has shifted significantly over the last years, as modern consumers seek unique shopping experiences, new engagement and purchase channels and an increased level of transparency and authenticity.

Brands and retailers that recognise these evolving preferences and deliver informative, interactive and personalised experiences online and offline can both retain their existing customers and attract new ones.

Simon Brennan, VP Europe, Engage Hub

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