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How to build local loyalty for the long-term

How to build local loyalty for the long-term

The pandemic has unlocked a new customer base for small businesses. Here are five ways to retain your latest clients

During lockdown in the UK, there was no question that small and medium-sized enterprises and local traders were hit hard.

Around 80 per cent of SMEs in the UK have seen revenues fall in the last few months due to the impact of the COVID-19 crisis.

Despite this, many local businesses have made it through extremely testing times and now have a stronger and more loyal customer base than ever before.

During the height of lockdown, many consumers saw it as their duty to help support local businesses so they could thrive against all odds. There were various ways in which people supported - and are still supporting - local businesses such as pubs, bars, and cafes.

In one survey, 36 per cent of people said they had supported local enterprises by utilising their takeaway/delivery services and 30 per cent had purchased vouchers; 29 per cent said they had recommended their favourite businesses to friends and family; and 20 per cent had donated to a few online fundraising initiatives.

Evidently, people were willing to make the shift to shopping locally at the beginning of lockdown and, thanks to this, many small traders have a thriving new customer base. The question now, as we move forward into uncharted territory, is how can businesses retain and capitalise on this customer base?

Here are my top five tips:

1. Use your delivery experience as a new marketing channel
In the initial phases of lockdown, most small companies were prompted to adapt their business. For many, this meant offering online delivery options instead of in-person services.

Even though people are able to visit places in person once more, it’s important you continue to offer an alternative, as this could also work as a new marketing channel for your business.

Omnichannel marketing is the concept of providing customers with an integrated shopping experience, including both online and in-person shopping. During times when many people are still dependant on ordering products online, work to solidify your brand as the go-to home delivery service in the area and your business will continue to grow.

To create a truly memorable delivery experience, consider compliment slip printing as a way to add a personal touch for customers.

2. Create an agile strategy and be ready to adapt
A survey by global management consultancy McKinsey & Company revealed that 28 per cent of SME businesses doubted their ability to sustain their supply chains, while 24 per cent were concerned about being able to successfully retain their employees. Evidently, a new strategy is needed for the majority of local businesses in the UK.

You may have been able to stay afloat thanks to customer loyalty during the initial stages of lockdown, but chances are that was partly because your business proved to be adaptable and you acted fast, thinking on your feet.

No one knows what the coming months will bring, so the ability to be flexible is essential for all local businesses. Listen to your customer base, respond to their needs and create an agile strategy around them, rather than sticking to your pre-lockdown best practice.

Although it can be hard to budget for all the small business essentials, your strategy should involve a marketing budget that allows you to interact with your customer base, keeping loyal customers engaged while attracting an even wider following.

3. Consistent communication is key
As your customer base has seen you through some difficult months, it’s likely that you already have a healthy social media following and consumers have been staying in the loop with everything you have on offer. So what are the next steps?

Use your social media to keep people engaged. Be sure to consistently communicate with them and let them know all the exciting things you’ve got coming up.

By asking your followers to share your messages further, you’ll be able to reach a much wider customers base, so now is the perfect time to run social media competitions in which you ask your followers to share a post and tag their friends.

Communication is also essential right now because big changes could happen at any point. Don’t leave your customers in the dark. Instead, always be clear on your opening hours, delivery options and any special promotions you’re running.

4. Express gratitude through loyalty schemes and offers
One of the best ways to capitalise on the customer base you were able to cultivate throughout the early stages of lockdown, is to show gratitude and thank them for their unwavering loyalty. What better way to do so than implementing a rewarding loyalty scheme?

Not only will this retain valuable customers, but if you incorporate it into your marketing efforts it will attract new potential customers to come and reap the rewards of choosing your business. 

5. Share your story
Finally, remember to maximise one of the main reasons why local customers chose to support you throughout lockdown instead of a much larger corporation: the emotion and ‘realness’ of a small, community-based business.

Share your lockdown story with your customers and don’t forget to thank them for the part they played in it.

Did your business step in to help others within your community during times of crisis? If so, incorporate that uplifting story into your marketing efforts and remind people that by supporting you they’re not only helping one small business thrive, but playing a part for their community.

The future is unclear, but by being flexible, engaging your customers and putting effort into both your digital and print marketing, you’ll have the tools to continue to build your business.

The author
Gary Peeling is CEO of Where The Trade Buys.

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