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Hope to create loyalty? Think strategically!

If you want to build loyal customers, your first step is to create a strategic plan for success. Today, a key component of that loyalty plan is almost certain to contain an interactive, online component.
In bygone days, companies “hid” behind a shield of advertising, marketing and public relations strategies. Any number of shortcomings could be camouflaged by a catchy jingle or a dancing dog. With a sufficiently large budget, a company could survive on that sort of “strategy” forever.

In a world made more personal, in many ways, by social media, blogs and website interactions, it’s a little tougher to shield yourself from customer complaints. Antipathy runs deep, and the internet has a storied (if relatively brief) history of “flamers” willing to trash the reputation of a multi-billion dollar corporation over a store clerk’s careless comment or some other perceived flaw in product or service.

Companies who have profited from social media are twice as likely to have formulated a specific strategy. You can tinker around the edges, but strategic efforts bring real value – both financial and in the arena of public perception.

But you have some big questions to answer before you go live with the customer.

  • Who will own your online loyalty effort?
  • How many hours per week can you allocate to support your strategy?
  • Is the budget adequate to do the job?
  • What role do you need outside of your existing resources to fill to help implement your strategy?
  • Will your content updates depend on any other resource or person?
  • Who will be responsible for monitoring and moderating customer s comments?
  • What is the response time you expect of that person?
  • Who will address customer service issues that need moderated?
  • Do you want your voice to be an individual person or a group of people at the company?
  • Are your legal, HR and IT teams clear on the limitations and risks that may be associated with a social media initiative?

Remember: Questions of budget and resources are not nearly so daunting if you realize that your online loyalty strategy has (or at least SHOULD have) great synergy with more traditional arms of customer engagement.

Of course, an online loyalty strategy requires the same level of expertise, research and technical know-how as other forms of outreach. In fact, the short history and relative scarcity of well-founded research on interactive media may actually dictate greater expertise and care. Only your experience will tell.

But in a rapidly changing digital world, customers expect to be engaged online, as well as in person. Quite simply, it is incumbent on you to meet that expectation.

Sallie Burnett
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