The last thing you want is for every ecommerce purchase to be a one-off. Even with a satisfying and efficient sales process, customer retention is something you have to work at.

If Google search volumes are an indication, ‘customer retention’ is more prominent in the minds of brand executives, than either ‘customer engagement’ or ‘customer acquisition’ are.

There’s a high cost to winning over each new customer, so (naturally) you want to hang on to them.

Ultimately, it’s about customer lifetime value (CLV) – the average amount of profit you will earn, during the time somebody remains your customer.

Assuming your costs remain fixed, you can boost customer lifetime value by increasing:

  • Average value of each purchase
  • Number of purchases
  • Length of time each person remains a customer

All of these have a direct link to your overall customer experience, not just the user experience on your website.

Personalisation and intelligent use of data are increasingly the keys to boosting customer retention. Whether it’s upselling or email marketing – showing people more of what they want, when and how they want, is what brings results.

Delivering on a transaction isn’t the end of the process

So, somebody found something on your website. They ordered it without fuss, you delivered it on time and it met their expectations. Does that mean you’ve earned their loyalty and they’ll be rushing back to your site for more?

Probably not. You’ve met your minimum commitments – nothing more.

Of course, if any part of the experience was difficult or painful, you’ll have fallen at the first hurdle. Unless you can bring some exceptional customer service to bear, you’ve probably gotten all the value you’ll ever get out of that particular customer.

But assuming everything went well, the question remains, “How do I keep this customer engaged?”

Spark loyalty to life with ongoing brand engagement

Research published by the Content Marketing Institute highlights how the lifetime value of each customer is linked to ongoing brand engagement. The traditional (and linear) model of AIDA – Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action – doesn’t define the relationship between customers and brands in the digital age.

A thoughtful, relevant and well-executed series of post-purchase emails can be hugely effective. You can mix advice on how a customer can get the best out of their purchase, with targeted offers based on their buying history.

Follow-up emails help prevent buyer’s remorse – the stage when our rational self starts questioning the value of a largely emotional purchase.

Follow-up emails are also about showing that you care. For you, at least, the purchase isn’t the end of the relationship.

Asking customers for ratings and reviews isn’t just about getting new business – it can lift positive experiences back into each customer’s consciousness. Of course, you have to make sure you provide those positive experiences in the first place.

Deal constructively with negative feedback

I’m sure we all know a story about how a brand earned a loyal customer by handling a complaint really well. Obviously, creating problems just so you can respond to them heroically wouldn’t be smart. But the way you are seen to respond to complaints can influence customer loyalty.

Most customers are reasonable. They know that mistakes sometimes happen. Accept responsibility and make it clear that your priority is to resolve the issue as quickly as possible.

Customers increasingly take their grievances to social media. Make sure your accounts are monitored by someone who knows how to respond constructively to negative comments.

Building a high fence to prevent customers leaving isn’t the way to retain them

We all hate it when customers close their online accounts – but how you handle the process determines whether it’s ‘au revoir’ or goodbye forever.

Winning a new customer is expensive but the cost of losing one is even greater – it has the ripple effects of negative feedback and word of mouth.

It’s a scenario you want to avoid… but if that’s not possible, you have to manage the fallout.

I recently decided to cancel my subscription to a well-known antivirus and internet security product. There was nothing wrong with the product but it just didn’t meet my needs any more.

Simple, you would think. I’d just have to go into my account settings and click the ‘cancel my subscription’ button. But, of course, there wasn’t one. After several minutes of fruitless searching across various pages I was left with two options: phone call or live chat.

By the time I had succeeded, a process that should have taken a couple of seconds used up about twenty minutes of my time.

We all hate losing customers… but making the option to leave inconvenient or near impossible isn’t the way to keep them.

Naturally, you want the chance to find out why people want to leave and, perhaps, persuade them to stay. But if that process makes me resentful and angry, do you think I’m going to be receptive to any offers?

After just five frustrating minutes, my mind became fixed on one objective – cancelling as quickly as possible and never coming back.

Maybe there’s a better way. Show your customers that you care about them leaving and give them reasons to reconsider – but without alienating them.

I would go one step further and actually make it easy to make a complaint.

This may seem like backwards logic, but if you can resolve a situation before the point of no return, you have a better chance of retaining that customer.

In the age of big data and automation, it’s easy to overlook the human and personal side of commerce. But doing this will always be at the expense of customer retention.