Retail magnate JC Penney believed that “every great business is built on friendship”. That this judgement was made by a man born in the 19th century shows how long building great relationships has been a goal for businesses. While a business can never be a “friend” to a customer in the truest sense, it’s a sentiment to aim for.

Fast forward a hundred or so years and this issue has been brought into sharp relief by the array of choice available to consumers Now, if a brand does not live up to expectations, the customer is a couple of clicks away from a competitor.

New research commissioned by Ricoh Europe has shown how brands are expected to earn repeat custom. It has also shown how important brand interactions are to potential and existing customers, and ultimately the all-important bottom line.

As a marketer, I took three key points from the research:

1. There is a direct link between the qualities of the interaction with the profitability of the company. Sixty-eight per cent of European consumers can recall avoiding a product or brand after a bad customer service experience.

2. Personalised interactions are vital. 50% of European consumers value personalised offers and discounts above all other factors when making a purchasing decision.

3. There is a need to strike the right balance between personalisation and privacy. Nine out of 10 respondents would stop buying from a brand if they felt it was too intrusive during an interaction.

It’s all very well to grasp the story that the data tells, but how can marketers use this insight to improve their customer interactions? As good things come in threes, us marketers should consider the following points:

1. Simplify processes. Be agiler. The pace of change in the market and in customer expectations demands speed of reaction.

2. Consider what you already know about your customers. Invest in effective business intelligence so data can be directly utilised to develop better relationships.

3. Know your customer. This last is a marketing mantra that hails back to JC Penney’s day. But nowadays we can use data to build accurate profiles of customers. These can create comprehensive buying personas to make interactions more personal.

These are the points from our research that struck a chord with me as a marketer. But what is clear from this research is how willing customers are to go elsewhere if they are dissatisfied with interactions.

To effect real change, whole businesses need to be responsible for taking this insight on board, not just the marketing team. For example, slick customer service has to be backed by slick user experience – as pointed out by my colleague David Mills recently.

You’d be hard pushed to find inventions from the 19th century that haven’t changed significantly – railways are still a crucial means of travel, incandescent bulbs are still in use (in some places, anyway) and shipping is still the best way to move bulk cargo. However, the link between great relationships and repeat custom is certainly timeless.

 

By Javier Diez-Aguirre, vice president of corporate marketing, CSR & environment at Ricoh Europe


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