Keeping Customers Loyal Despite Lulls in the Relationship

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Customer Loyalty
Customer Experience
It's that time of year again: Mister Softee ice cream trucks stake out their spots in the local park, occasionally playing their happy tune, attracting kids (and a certain editor) like the Pied Piper.

It's that time of year again: Mister Softee ice cream trucks stake out their spots in the local park, occasionally playing their happy tune, attracting kids (and a certain editor) like the Pied Piper.My dog, Roxy, is a fan of Mister Softee. I buy a cone I can never finish; she's happy to take care of that for me. It doesn't happen too often--maybe three or four times over the course of a summer. So it's been nearly a year since Roxy's been to the Mister Softee truck with me. Even so, when we strolled through the local park yesterday evening, and rounded the bend to where the ice cream truck was parked across the street, as I continued along the path she made a beeline for the truck. After nearly a year. (But no, to her chagrin she didn't get far; she was on a leash.)

This got me thinking about maintaining customer loyalty for products or services with "lulls" in interaction and lengths of time between repurchase. Once of the challenges that providers of infrequently purchased items (e.g. cars, appliances) have is to keep customers engaged and loyal over the long-term, so when the opportunity for the next purchase arises, those customers make a beeline back to them.

Automotive manufacturers have the advantage (but sometimes the disadvantage) of a branded dealer network that offers repairs and other services. Some organizations use educational and informational content to stay top of mind and keep customers engaged and loyal. Others, especially in B2B, use proactive service strategies to do so.

As technologies increasingly facilitate the maintenance of these long-term relationships, I wonder what new opportunities companies might seize. For example, I have a Kitchen-Aid refrigerator with water and ice in the door. I signed up for an automatic replenishment service for the water filter, so Kitchen-Aid has some information that it can use to encourage a repurchase at the optimal time.

Since the company has my refrigerator's serial number it has a general idea of how long I've owned the fridge, the size, the color, and the like. It knows how often I need a new filter, so the company also has an idea of usage. With this information the company could, for example, ask me after owning the fridge for "X" years to opt in to emails about how to maintain an aging refrigerator to get the most out of it.

Later, when the fridge is closer to "retirement," the company could send me information about what new models I may be interested in to replace what I currently have--based on what it knows about me and my refrigerator. Doing so could potentially give Kitchen-Aid a distinct advantage when it's time for me to buy a new fridge. Wouldn't I (and other customers like me) rather purchase from a trusted brand that's been there with recommendations and advice than from an unknown? Most likely.

Roxy isn't the only one with a memory for the sweet taste of a special customer experience. Your customers are sure to remember the efforts you put into maintaining their loyalty over the long run. So how do you keep your customers engaged so they'll make a beeline to you when it's time to repurchase?

EXPERT OPINION
EXPERT OPINION