In today’s intensely consumer-based market it is becoming increasingly difficult to create and retain loyal customers, particularly in Vietnam’s rapidly developing commercial center, Ho Chi Minh City. Products are so easily and widely available, standards are so competitive and access to them is so transparent that consumers can, and do, have their pick of the market. Businesses don’t choose their market now - the market chooses its businesses, and customers are increasingly moving away from brand loyalty, prone towards buying from whoever has the best price, for the best product, at the right time. So how can you keep them coming back to you? Is it a lost cause?
Why Are Customers Less Loyal?
The question of “why” customer loyalty is decreasing all comes down to instant gratification and the huge range of information available to people through the modern technological age. The internet alone has opened a massive online network for buying and selling, and generates the expectation for ease, instant results, rapid product and service development, and top standards. Add society’s progression into mobile-based hotel and restaurant bookings, information collection and web design into the mix, and you can multiply that by 10. There are so many reasons for why customer retention is becoming harder and harder, but let’s break it down into five:
1. The market is transparent
Consumers have access to more data via their mobile phones, tablets, laptops, etc. than ever before, as well as the ability to compare prices, benefits and offers on the go via the numerous online sites or apps that exist to make their buying easier. This makes competition fiercer than ever as businesses cannot hide; every detail is accessible and comparable. Someone could be sitting in the lobby of your classy 4 star hotel, comparing the price of your executive suite to that of the hotel next door while negotiating with your clerk over your complimentary breakfast. You could lose them in an instant, simply because they found out that next door offers late-night checkout.
2. Everything must be easy and instant
With so much information at our fingertips, society is becoming increasingly accustomed to instant gratification. The less effort needed for someone to engage with your content, the more likely they are to do so. Similarly, the less complex your hotel or restaurant booking system is, the more bookings you will receive. The less difficult it is to find your store the more likely you are to get visitors - particularly for hotels and restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City’s packed streets. And the quicker your service the higher your reputation. If your customer is given an offer by your competitor that saves them time and effort, then you are likely waving goodbye to them.
3. You’ve got to be “indie”
Chinos and knitted jumpers aside, advocating and caring for individuality in your market is key to the success of your customer service. With the huge variety of choice that the internet gives its consumers comes the need for corporations to think of their market as a group of individuals with unique profiles, buying behaviours, interests and lead potential, rather than a set of people that fit a target profile. Businesses like hotels and restaurants are increasingly interested in using consumer tracking software to find out more about what their individual customers want, in tailoring email campaigns specifically to customer interactions and in focusing their social media tactics on select segments of their target market. The idea is to anticipate what your customer wants, and to be there when they want it.
4. New new new
People love the word “upgrade” (especially if it has “free” in front of it). Society is becoming driven to consume, often for the sake of consumption, with people always hankering after the latest this or the next model of that. Your customer wants an experience or a product that they’ve never seen before. I was with Windows about five years ago, and stubbornly loyal to the operating system. But when the Apple Macbook Pro came out, as shiny and weirdly round as it was, I ditched my PC in a second. Apple was new, stylish, impressively efficient, and I moved. This applies to other sectors too, particularly hospitality. In Vietnam, hotels compete with each other for customers with their rooms rates, benefits, the style of their space, etc. Often it comes down to how well you utilise the full potential of your business, both in terms of customer satisfaction and in terms of profit. You can read more about how to maximise your RevPar while maintaining the kind of standards that keep customers coming back for more here.
5. You’ve got more competition than ever
As you’ll have understood by now, to retain customers in today’s market you have to be a fierce competitor - there are just too many options for your potential customer. For example, there are so many 4 star and 5 star hotels across Vietnam, that companies need to continuously bring something special to the table to maintain interest in their potential customers. You have to be the best one. Industry standards and rate of growth are ever higher, and to maintain a voice among your competitors you have to stand out.
Is There a Solution?
The best solution to this decline in customer loyalty is to let them go! Ok, I don’t mean totally abandon all leads - just stop spending your energy on trying to use old strategies to retain customers that interact with businesses in such a new way, and instead focus on catering to their buying behaviours.
– Get online + Google’s new OTA
Since your potential customers will be comparing your competitors via the vast mass of information that is the internet, you’d better be on the web and with a great reputation. Social media marketing and online listings have never been more important. Getting great reviews is a really big deal, especially for restaurants and hotels in Ho Chi Minh City that often rely on online reputation. Prices aside, if your business has a good rep for service and quality and the kind of credibility that can only come from past sales and happy reviews, people will be far more likely to choose you. For those in the hospitality sector, Google’s new OTA platform “Google Destinations” is promising to be the next big thing for a company’s online presence with the potential to totally out-run Tripadvisor or Expedia - you can read more about that here.
– Keep it simple + capturing user attention
When businesses set up their website, they have to think about a range of factors - from how it relates to their brand identity to the loading speed of each little section. But perhaps the most, and, sadly, often one of the most overlooked or misunderstood factors, is usability. Simplicity. How easy is it to get from A to B on your site? Studies show that simple fonts and print help people to reason more clearly. Another study by researchers from Yale in partnership with Stanford University and the University of Michigan proved that people are more likely to spend money in response to simple descriptions and prompts. Finally, Google discovered that simple websites with low visual complexity, plenty of white space and high prototypicality were much more appealing to their viewers than complicated ones. And if you think about it, Google itself is the perfect example. This sheet of website statistics is a great tool for understanding how your users interact with your site, and how to capture their attention.
Minimise the steps your viewers have to take to get make a choice or get through a process, such as finding your “about” section or booking a room. And remember the age-old saying that a picture speaks a thousand words. According to one study, about 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual, and visuals are processed 60,000 times faster than text.
– Studying (... or spying on) customer behavior
Like in the famous 1954 film by Alfred Hitchcock, Rear Window, this is your chance to be a voyeur, to spy on your customers. There are a number of ways to collect data on the individuals in your market and keep tabs on their activities, and this information will be invaluable in your marketing strategy. Remember that connecting with today’s market requires you to focus on the individual, not just put everyone under the general target profile, especially if your target market is very dense like in HCMC. There are a number of content management systems that offer consumer tracking software to personalise your interactions with every viewer and potential or existing client that comes to your site, such as Salescloud or Hubspot. In fact, Hubspot has a number of articles on the art of spying on your client base. Other tips include keeping a record of who engages with your email or social media campaigns and what they engage with, who shares or follows your content, and using good old Google analytics to understand who comes to your site, when and why.
– Surfing consumer trends
So you have a lot of competitors and they just keep getting better. What to do? Compete. Use your competition as a force to push your own business to greater heights. Analyse what they do and how they get there, and implement it - only better. Identify your own channel of growth, based on your company’s vision and mission. Put in your own steps to keep evolving and renewing your services and products, perhaps at an even faster rate than them! Do be mindful of quality, though. Hubspot wrote a great piece on how to stay on top of consumer trends - how to be reactive, proactive and survive in this dog eat dog market. Have a read.
– Watch your loading times
Your content should have a definite voice and your products must embody your company’s image. This kind of unity starts from inside the company itself. According to Adobe, “given 15 minutes to consume content, two-thirds of people would rather read something beautifully designed than something plain.” But be mindful of the loading time that your creativity might take - Adobe also found that “39% of people will stop engaging with a website if images won’t load or take too long to load”. If you are working in an area that has poor wifi, like the majority of the hotels, restaurants and other businesses in Vietnam, bear this in mind too - slower wifi means even slower loading time.
So to conclude, customer retention is not dead. It is not redundant, but it has definitely changed and in this fast paced world that we find ourselves in today, it is likely to change again. Soon. At the end of the day it’s all about keeping pace.