How To Engage With Today’s Evolving Customer Base

When Sarah Lisotta, marketing manager at Martin Wine Cellar in New Orleans, interacts with her customers, her goal is to not only engage with the customer, but also to have them remain engaged with her brand. This certainly is the goal of most businesses, but in today’s evolving business world, where customer interaction strategies are in constant flux, this is easier said than done.

That’s why Lisotta and others in the beverage industry are using a combined approach of loyalty marketing, in-store interaction and digital engagement to connect with customers in ways that merge traditional best practices with the modern interactive environment.

Historically Speaking

The concept of “customer engagement” has evolved and grown over the years. Today, retailers can leverage technology to create more informed, personalized connections with their customers, and mobile and social platforms allow business owners to consistently engage customers, quickly access information and improve in-store experiences.

As Lisotta explains, customer engagement is more important than ever with the revolution digital advertising as a two-way communication platform. Lifestyle-based, customer-driven marketing has surpassed the traditional approach. Younger generations are looking for more from a company than just an item; they want an experience.

“Email capture and CRM tools give retailers the ability to connect with customers even after they leave the store – no longer confining them to the constraints of regular business hours,” says Ayesha Herian, communications manager at ShopKeep. “In our ‘always on, always connected’ world, retailers have developed new ways to engage with customers, and these tools help them do so easily and efficiently.”

That said, customers appreciate having a personal, individualized experience when shopping in store. Whether it’s an employee reaching out to a customer when their favorite vintage goes on sale or recommending the specific bottle of wine they bought for a dinner party last month, customers want to know that retailers are paying attention to them and their shopping habits.

“Thoughtful engagement with customers on a consistent basis can not only increase loyalty and long-term value among existing customers, but it can also help attract new customers,” Herian says. “This will ultimately help a businesses’ bottom lines by maximizing check averages and driving sales, so it’s a win-win for both parties involved.”

Happy young couple smiling while shopping for wine together at supermarket

Happy young couple smiling while shopping for wine together at supermarket

Loyalty Programming

Today’s beverage retailers are using loyalty programs as part of their customer engagement strategy. As Herian explains, retailers have several choices that offer different benefits. Outside of physical punch-cards, there are several apps and technologies that enable a more seamless loyalty program.

According to Mark Harrington, vice president of marketing at Clutch, while loyalty programs are often focused on the transaction, retailers with strong programs focus on using them as a channel to learn and understand their customers by gaining information on the individual’s behaviors, preferences and tendencies. This data is used by savvy retailers to deliver highly relevant engagements that motivate the customer and move towards earning their loyalty for the store’s brand.

“Loyalty programs act as more than just a gimmick for more sales, they can be a great way to show appreciation to those who have helped keep your business strong,” Lisotta says. “Treating these customers to a ‘thank you’ can be a great way to stay top of mind and keep a positive attitude toward your brand.”

Some of the most successful programs are focused on “surprise and delight” elements. “The customer doesn’t know if or when they will get a reward, so there is no expectation, but research often shows that with this the surprise and delight elements are more valued and highly appreciated,” Harrington says. “Beyond this, tiered programs where customers are rewarded for their longevity and frequency are often high-performing since the customers tend to feel more valued as they engage the brand more.”

Herian says one great option is building loyalty through a CRM program: retailers can capture customer emails through their POS and upload customer information, including purchase history, into email marketing programs like MailChimp.

“This allows retailers to send bespoke offers and discounts that match a customer’s purchase preferences,” Herian says. For example, a customer who normally buys a Zinfandel from California could receive a discount for a Zinfandel at a higher price-point. This not only helps to increase customer engagement, but  also maximizes check averages and increases customer lifetime value.

Another successful loyalty program for retailers is using the email receipt function in cloud-based POS systems. Retailers can add their social media accounts like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to the bottom of the receipt, encouraging customers to engage with them online.

“It’s imperative that beverage retailers analyze and find value with their loyalty program,” Herian says. “The biggest mistake retailers make is offering a loyalty program simply because other retailers are doing it; it can lead to building no real value, and a loss in profits. Make sure you research, test and evaluate the success of your loyalty program. If it’s not actually increasing engagement and generating more revenue, it might end up hurting your business.”

Aron Ezra, chief executive officer at OfferCraft, says customer engagement is not only an important issue, it is the issue on the minds of many in the industry.

“According to Boston Retail Partners, 74% of U.S. retailers say that customer engagement is their number one concern,” Ezra says. “Today, retailers spend so much time and effort optimizing what offer to make, but it’s just as important—arguably more important—to figure out how to give out an offer and a reward to maximize engagement.”

For example, let’s say you wanted to give customers $10 off their next purchase. That’s all your marketing budget will allow you to give. That coupon or reward will have drastically different redemption rates depending on how you distribute it. Now imagine you’re a customer walking into two scenarios:

In the first scenario, an unenthusiastic cashier hands you a receipt and mumbles something about a $10 coupon at the bottom of your receipt. Some people will look at it and use it, while some will shove it in their purse or wallet only to forget about it later, and most will throw it away without a glance.

“In the second scenario, the customer gets to, say, play a game in the store or on their phone to win the $10 reward,” Ezra says. “This is one of the things my team often creates for retailers, because the research and our own experience have repeatedly found that people respond much better to things they earn in a memorable way rather than things that are given for free. By creating a gamification-driven engagement experience out of giving the coupon away, customers are more likely to remember it and more likely to value it. Ultimately, we’ll see higher redemption rates and ROI from this identical $10 offer versus the one from the unenthusiastic cashier.”

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