The last few years have unquestionably tested our dependency on a commercial goods supply chain constantly in motion. From pandemics and severe weather to canal blockages and labor strikes, even the most successful companies are currently feeling the effects of the currently clogged chain, regardless of industry. In the wake of the Covid-19 shut down, factories closed or slowed production and the re-opening of the economy has been anything but seamless. There just isn’t enough – people (longshoremen, drivers, and postal workers), places (warehouse space), or things (lumber, computer chips, paint, etc) – to fill the demand for many of the goods that consumers need and want today.
And today’s consumers are not a patient bunch. They are accustomed to making purchases when and where they have the whim and expect a personalized experience and a seamless and fast delivery - otherwise, they will be quick to turn to a competitor that can satisfy those needs if your business can not. They don’t know, or necessarily care, what is happening behind the scenes at the shipping ports or warehouses – they’re simply irritated by long shipping delays or sold-out notifications. As a result, they are looking elsewhere – a brand’s worst nightmare.
75% of Americans reported that they tried a new shopping behavior during the pandemic and 73–80% intend to continue their adopted behavior siting value, availability, and convenience as the main reasons for the switch. (McKinsey August 2020)
Looking back at the start of the pandemic, most business owners’ first concerns were decreased sales and navigating normal business operations during this once-in-a-lifetime disruption. Supply chain concerns were low on the list of worries (see below from Vennli, April 2020) so it’s not surprising that very few were prepared with back stock for the uptick in spending in certain categories -- like packaged goods, technology, fitness equipment, home goods, and vehicles. Understanding how customers were making decisions in this new climate was also lower on the list of concerns – both of which are much closer to the top now that many companies are struggling to deliver on brand promise and retain loyal customers.
So how can brands keep their customers loyal during these difficult times?
Aside from a miracle unknotting of the massive kink in the global supply chain, companies can start to examine and address how customer preferences have changed - moving that priority to their top-of-mind list. Getting down to the basics of what frustrations your customers are having and acting on those insights can help your customers understand your supply challenges - and maybe even show them that you are worth the wait.
Here are 5 easy ways to win back customer loyalty while you address the ‘not so easy’ supply issues your business might be facing:
1) Be honest. There’s nothing worse than over-promising and under-delivering. By now, customers have experienced delays and out of stocks in some capacity – being honest about what you can and can not deliver upfront will earn their respect versus their disappointment post-purchase. You can also let customers behind the scenes a bit more – introduce them to your hard-working staff and your manufacturing process to remind them what makes your brand great and why they should stay.
2) Delight them! Delight is all about providing a remarkable experience by focusing on your customer’s needs, interests, and wishes. An example of this can be an unexpected gift or offer on a day of celebration, or simply by providing exceptional customer service to avoid customer frustration. Instituting a live chat option with a customer service representative on your website so customers can get fast answers instead of holding on a phone line solves a problem for many consumers.
3) Get Personal. Creating content and experiences that make your customers feel as if they were created especially for them is a great way to earn trust and loyalty. An easy way to do this is to develop a loyalty or membership program that also collects data and preferences for each customer. Messages and product recommendations can then be delivered based on purchase history and behaviors and will feel much more personal versus a mass email that goes to your entire address book.
4) Recognize their loyalty. The rewards program that you developed should also allow your most valued customers to unlock specials and exclusive content or experiences that a non-member might not receive. We all want to feel special; this is a great way to show your loyal customers some extra love. Go a step further and ask them to refer your brand or service to others -- then reward them again!
5) Encourage Feedback. Asking your customer how they feel about your brand then responding appropriately to that feedback, both the good and the bad, will show your customers that you truly care about their opinions. Responding in a personalized, productive way will show that you are also really listening to them – something every customer will appreciate.
According to many recent reports and analyses, supply chain woes are here to stay for a while longer – and the demand for goods going into the Q4 holiday season could continue to exacerbate the already complicated situation. Customers can expect more out-of-stock notifications than ever before. Now is the time to accelerate strategies that will help to increase customer loyalty and satisfaction before it’s too late – and your customers turn to your competitor.