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Customer Loyalty? Think High-Touch and Not High-Tech

As a part-time cynical marketer, I have ridiculed nearly every customer loyalty program that I have seen. I turn a super critical eye to customer loyalty programs from retailers whose marketing departments seem to be more energized by using high-tech means to build relationships with customers, than by using high-touch means to building enduring relationships with customers.

Retail marketers need to think high-touch and not high-tech to build loyal a loyal customer base.

For years, Starbucks Coffee has used high-touch methods to build and maintain a loyal customer base. In his book, “Pour Your Heart in It,” Howard Schultz, in supremely succinct fashion said, “If we greet customers, exchange a few words with them and then custom-make a drink exactly to their taste, they will be eager to come back.” That is the true description of a high-touch way retailers can connect with customers to build enduring loyalty.

But the high-touch way requires companies to trust their employees to be human and to execute by connecting on a personal level with customers. And, too many companies are afraid to place that much trust and responsibility in the hands of their frontline employees. So instead of tapping into the human element to build enduring relationships with customers, companies seemingly compromise by turning to high-tech ways to create loyalty programs based upon reward cards that focus more on the value of lower prices than on the value of human relationships.

What is a retail marketer to do? How can they begin to design a high-touch program to build a more satisfied and more loyal customer base?

Be Nice. Be Clean. Those four words are all a retail marketer needs to know to begin building a program designed to create a more satisfied and thus more loyal customer base. Of all the customer satisfaction surveys for retailers that I have seen, nearly every one has listed clean store and friendly staff as two major attributes for developing a more satisfying customer experience.

Now, any customer loyalty initiative based upon Being Nice and Being Clean will require that the Marketing department connect with their Operations Team. After all, it is the retail employee who will be responsible for executing any high-touch customer program and the Operations team will most likely be the conduit to reach the store employee.

For 2004, I hope that retail-focused companies rely more on designing high-touch ways to build a loyal customer base and rely less on designing high-tech ways to connect with customers.

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