5 Best Practices to Keep Your Best Customers

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This is no time for retailers to take their best customers for granted. As merchants look to build customer relationships with fewer stores and across the hyper-competitive e-commerce landscape, your best customers have never been more important. To stay current and concise with this critical group, retailers need to look at analytics and life-cycle-based treatment recommendations to predict, plan for, and grow these crucial relationships.

1. Determine Who’s the Best

First, it’s important to define who the best customers are. We typically define them as the top 10 percent of customers in terms of revenue and engagement. But it can help to break this segment into groups—whether they’ve maintained best-customer status throughout the year or just qualified for the first time. The long-term, consistent best customers are a top target for special attention. And within that group is where you will find the hidden gems—the best of the best—representing the top 2 percent of the overall best-customer group based on spending and transaction frequency. The search for these top best customer candidates should never stop, nor should the need to reactivate them if they lapse. 

2. Welcome Them, in Your Own Way

When these groups of customers make the cut, welcome them as a best customer. Some retailers reach out directly, letting them know what to expect, while others utilize a “surprise and delight” approach.

In the first case, customers might see what rewards they will receive as a member of a specific tier compared to higher tiers. Typically, this will be an incentive to motivate them to increase their spending with the brand. The surprise-and-delight approach, on the other hand, doesn’t tell customers why they received a reward; it just affirms the relationship and thanks customers for their brand loyalty.

There are arguments for both: These decisions are based on cadence, price point, or how the experience reflects the brand.

3. Make Them Feel Special

Treat best customers differently than everyone else on the blast list. Whether it’s their birthday or anniversary, or your brand is gearing up for specific seasonal messages—all those contact points can still apply to best customers, just with a unique VIP treatment.

They could receive the same cadence and timing of general marketing messages, but the content should be specific to their shopping behavior and lifestyle. Sending them more interactive versions of product emails, asking them for feedback on new products, or providing a special in-store, soft product launch are all ways that you can show appreciation while utilizing their feedback for your marketing efforts. Knowing that personal feedback could help shape the next product line is something that any brand loyalist would be excited about.

Another way to keep best customers engaged is to create a “Refer a Friend” campaign strictly for them. Make it clear you know they are worth investing in and that their referrals are valued. Take advantage of the fact that best customers are more likely to refer a friend who is similar to themselves, thus growing the best-customer group. Since best customers will most likely refer someone with a similar identity and lifestyle, the rewards should be higher than normal. Providing best customers with a gift card for every customer they refer can help sweeten the deal.

4. Treat Best Customers with a (Tech-Driven) Human Touch

There is no one approach to treating a best customer right; it relies on knowing how your brand is different from your competitors, and understanding who your customers are and why they choose to shop with you. Continue to collect information from them to be in tune with who they are and what they want. For example, thank them via their preferred method of communication, whether in-person, a phone call, or a text.

For best customers, it’s less about discounts and more about the treatment. Offer them something to make them feel appreciated and valued, such as a gift with purchase, an after-hours shopping spree, or white glove treatment with your cell center.

On the high end, there is clienteling: connecting customers with a dedicated store associate that will be available when they visit. A personal shopper who is always ready for them will give these VIP customers the concierge treatment they deserve.

These “concierge” associates have their own customer portfolio and can take 30 minutes a day to reach out to best customers. Of course, this requires proper training and tools, not to mention dedication. Reserve this job for full-time employees or a store manager.

Technology plays a key role in empowering these reps to personalize on the fly. They can use an app that lets them tap into the marketing database for detailed customer look-up—trends, details, and history. It can tell them the next best offer to make and give them ability to send one-to-one communications to customers. And they can use it to automatically detect when a preferred customer is in-store, alerting a trained sales associate with specific customer data.

5. Have Analytics Inform the Experience

Analytics are the guardrails that keep the best-customer program on track throughout the year. Constant analysis lets you focus on retention, too, which is just as important as acquisition—if not more so.

Analyze best-customer behavior at 12 months, then use those results to guide treatment and messaging to move them up to the next tier (and retain the hidden gems).

Thoroughly analyzing these groups every six months ensures that the best-customer experience can be refined quickly where needed. Analytics helps marketers anticipate and protect best customers from attrition and helps shape campaigns to keep the relationship strong. If we see a loss year over year, then action must be taken to revamp their experience. Perhaps they are not aware of all the ways to take advantage of their best-customer status and just need to be more informed, or perhaps it is difficult for this group to maintain status each year. Either way, analytics and insights from the marketing database can help fix these issues.

Don’t wait—be proactive and keep evolving the treatment. The time for a cookie-cutter approach is over.

Tap the Power

Building and maintaining an effective, analytics-driven program for your best customers is an important step that retailers can take to stem the tide of store closings and lost business. Dedicated segment managers should be working on these choice customers all the time, making sure they enjoy a VIP experience. Every aspect of the marketing crew should be like the in-store associate that recognizes and treats the best customer as a unique individual.

For all its convenience, online shopping can’t offer as rich of an in-store experience that a best customer expects—or will go elsewhere to find. Today’s analytics, apps, and techniques give retailers the power to offer that experience, on the customer’s terms, more reliably than ever before.

Denise DeSisto is vice president, marketing automation and product innovation, at Boston-based Customer Portfolios, a marketing technology leader that uses insight and analytics to increase customer value. You can follow Customer Portfolios on Twitter @CustPortfolios.

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