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Updated: Apr 23, 2020
Even though the world may be going through a crisis, that doesn’t mean business owners can’t plan for better days ahead. COVID-19 isn’t the first pandemic that the economy has faced, and it probably won’t be the last. Having said that, the small business community has emerged from past crises, which inspires hope for the future.
You could say there’s no better time to examine your business and consider ways you can build customer loyalty than during the COVID-19 business crisis. By letting customers know how integral they are to the future road to recovery, you’ll likely strengthen the relationship. We’ve drummed up some ideas on how to build customer loyalty to get you started.
If you’ve been thinking about integrating more technology into your business, there’s probably no better time than now. With social-distancing rules in place, it’s become difficult, if not impossible, to be there in person for your customers. Augmented Reality, or AR, technology could be an excellent way to keep loyal customers and bridge the gap between you and them.
You may have heard about AR for gaming or entertainment, but it doesn’t have to be limited to those industries. AR allows you to visually showcase the steps to complete some task that someone otherwise couldn’t achieve on their own, even if you can’t be there live. Using AR, you can demonstrate step-by-step how to assemble a product, groom a pet, or some other project that usually requires an expert to complete.
A running store in Ohio has begun doing “virtual shoe fittings,” which involves learning the customer’s athletic style and foot dimensions through a combination of video calls using platforms like Zoom and their internal software. This business is catering to the needs of its customers – doing more than two-dozen shoe fittings daily – and thereby building customer loyalty.
When incorporating technology into your customer loyalty strategies, remember that customers also appreciate the human element of small businesses, so be sure and strike that balance.
Even though your brick-and-mortar store might not be open to the public, that doesn’t mean you can’t keep the lines of communication open with your customers.
They will be looking to social media channels for the latest. So, as you consider how to build customer loyalty, you can use social media to keep them updated on how things are going.
How can you keep loyal customers through social media? Try explaining how your business has changed. For instance, if you’re a restaurant, perhaps you’ve redirected your staff to make food deliveries these days. Remind your customers that you are still open for online purchases if that’s the case.
You might also share ways in which you and other business owners are giving back to the community during this time of stress. For instance, some grocery stores are earmarking the first hour of business each day for senior citizens only. Changes like this are sure to resonate with all generations during COVID-19. Others who are in a position to do so are providing meals for healthcare workers when possible. You could also start a fund in which your customers can give toward this effort.
Ask-me-anything (AMA) events are all the rage these days and are easy to incorporate into customer loyalty strategies. These are live online sessions in which your social media followers ask you questions on the spot, and you answer them during a designated AMA period. You could do this on video via Facebook. Or, use some other forum like Twitter or Reddit. In terms of how to keep loyal customers, an AMA is one of the best ways as it lets you engage with your customers and get to know them better.
Considering that you and your employees may be working remotely during COVID-19, you might also consider being available outside of normal business hours. If someone needs customer service on a Sunday when you’re regularly closed, it could go a long way to reach out anyway.
Cash flow can be a challenge during the best of times. During a crisis, the pressure is amplified, and you’ll have to depend on creativity to continue generating revenue. Businesses are already showcasing their ability to think outside of the box when it comes to lessening COVID-19 cash flow constraints. For example, they are giving customers more ways to continue supporting them even if the doors are physically closed.
If you haven’t already, consider giving your customers a way to purchase gift certificates online now that you’ll honor later. In many communities, people are concerned and want to know that their go-to business will be there when the economy reopens. By giving them a way to support you even throughout the COVID-19 crisis, they feel that they are doing their part. Meanwhile, this also addresses the question of how to build customer loyalty.
To really cement customer loyalty, consider including some special incentive if you can. For instance, customers who purchase a $100 gift certificate will get credit for $150. Then, increase the tiers from there. If you run a hair salon, consider giving customers a way to schedule appointments online once things begin returning to normal, so you’re not inundated with calls later on.
Now is the perfect time to start a loyalty program. Customers know how these work from earning loyalty rewards when they purchase a latte from Starbucks. Create a customer loyalty strategy that works for your business; you don’t even need to do it from scratch. Apps such as WordPress and WooCommerce have already done some of the heavy lifting for you.
You also see some businesses pivot to non-traditional ways and new products to generate sales in the face of COVID-19. For instance, businesses that use fabric are converting their material and resources into making face masks so people can better protect themselves in public places. While this is a way to get more revenue, contributing to the greater good is also a way to build customer loyalty. Customers will appreciate your business more for making an impact and addressing the pandemic.
Electric vehicle maker Tesla is not a small business, but it’s using its factories to produce ventilators for hospitals. Ashton Kutcher and his wife Mila Kunis have launched a new wine and plan to donate the proceeds to COVID-19 causes. While these two ideas might not be realistic right now, consider where your product or service could reflect a sign of the times. No matter which customer loyalty strategies you pursue, remember to stay true to your brand even if you have to broaden it a bit.
For many businesses, it helps to have financial support while navigating these troubling times as they simultaneously build customer loyalty. This is where a Paycheck Protection Program loan can help. Under the CARES Act, small businesses can apply for these forgivable loans and receive essential funding. You can use our PPP loan calculator to determine what amount you’re eligible for and then apply through Funding Circle when you’re ready. It’s easier to build customer loyalty and keep your doors open when you have the capital to do so. That’s where we can help.
Jessica Holcomb is the Content Marketing Manager at Funding Circle, specializing in small business marketing and social media. She has a degree from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising. Prior to Funding Circle, Jessica was a Marketing Manager at a successful social games company and a freelancer for many small businesses in the Bay Area. Her work can be seen in top retail, gaming, and financial small business resource sites.