Q: My business has always depended on in-person interactions. Do I need to create a robust digital offering to survive? — Jerry, Rochester, N.Y.
Here’s one big part of that answer: The digital evolution we’ve experienced this year is here to stay. According to a McKinsey survey, 77 percent of consumers will continue using digital channels moving forward. That doesn’t mean your business needs to go fully virtual, or that you need to create online-only offerings, but it does mean you should embrace the opportunity to add digital solutions to your existing offering.
Embracing digital — now and forever — is a simple way to limit your future vulnerabilities and manage new competitors in the space.
This isn’t about going up against tech-savvy competitors or spending big bucks chasing new customers. It’s about doubling down on the folks who already love you. You can use technology to remind your customers what you’re about and why your business is different — and then reward them for their loyalty.
Start by focusing on three different aspects of retention:
1. Satisfaction. Make sure they’re thrilled with your offers.
2. Loyalty. Make them feel that they matter.
3. Advocacy. Make them feel a part of the business and that your existence is essential to their happiness.
Then ask yourself, How can I create a digital touch point that will deliver each emotion?
If you have your customers’ email addresses, send out updates, behind-the-scenes access, new offers, or, at the most basic level, discounts. Don’t have emails? Use social media to build a simple digital bridge to your customers. (Once you have those emails, you can use referral technology and codes, most of it costing less than $100 per month. This is a smart, affordable way to reach new customers through your existing community.)
Promotion and reward, even if just on social media, is a great way to build engagement. If you have the infrastructure, consider setting up a digital Shopify store so that people can buy directly from you online, even if it’s just a few select items. But above all, you want to engage people with stories about your products, the people in your business, and even your customers. This can be through email, blogs, or social media, written or audio. People and stories are the heartbeat of every business; don’t let yours flatline.
Admittedly, you’ll end up with a lot of questions and opportunities. You might not know where to begin, and that’s OK. For clarity, ask yourself one question we learned from a longtime client, author and podcaster Tim Ferriss: If this were easy, what would it look like?
Sometimes the coolest ideas might also be the most complex for your customer. And right now, your customers don’t want complexity. They want simplicity, convenience, and comfort. You don’t need to have the most high-tech option. You just need a way to meet your customers or audience where they are. If you do that, your customers will be willing to stick with you, support you, and help build you back up.
I don’t know what the future looks like, but whether it exists online or in-person, your success will still depend on customer advocacy. Make that your goal, and the rest will work itself out.