There’s a great deal of nostalgia around the notion of an old time general store. Was it the limited selection of goods? The take-it-or-leave-it prices of a store with a captive audience? Or maybe the seven-to-ten-week wait for goods that were outside the small store’s inventory? No, no, and most emphatically not.
What made the old-timey store special was the personal relationships. The shopkeeper that comes from behind the register to shake your hand, ask about your wife, show you the latest in wagon wheels, or cornflower-blue hair ribbons. These weren’t random suggestions either. The shopkeeper knew about the older cart you were trying to make last through another winter. He even remembered your little girl with the eyes the same cornflower blue shade that you brought with you last time, and thought you might like to give her a gift that would make those eyes shine.
That was then…
As the world changed, stores changed too. Relationships became impersonal, transactional and driven by price. There was a rush to enroll people for services with little thought as to whether the services were useful or if the customer was being served well enough to return. The focus was on numbers and acquiring new customers versus serving existing ones with little consideration for those who were already on board.
Companies ignored the recognition and understanding that forges deeper customer connection, doing nothing behind the scenes to make the customer relationship one of shared value and meaning. And so a consumer’s loyalty only lasted if the company’s prices remained the lowest. This sad hamster wheel of lowering prices -> gaining customers -> competitor lowering prices -> reducing quality and service to lower prices -> regaining customers has been the status quo for too long.… and savvy brands will do well to embrace the new world order.
…but this is now
Using technology and analytics, brands can recreate the general store feel, with transactions that are part of a journey, not simply a one-and-done interaction. Understanding the 80/20 rule of sales, that about 80 percent of sales come from the best 20 percent of customers, companies can identify, understand and motivate these best-of-the-best to ensure their continued loyalty. They can identify what matters to first-time customers and use these insights to groom them into the 20-percent crew. And finally, when it comes time to grow the customer base, it can be done in a thoughtful, cost-productive way, using the insights of our existing best-of-best customers to find future 20-percenters to add to the fold. Whatever the business, whatever is being sold, the customer can now be recognized and understood as an individual. With technology, loyalty can be cultivated with every meaningful interaction, each intuitive, frictionless transaction, and every relevant communication, that proves time and again, wow, this brand really gets me.
Everything old is new again
The old time store may be a thing of the past, but with technology, everything old is new again…and there’s little that’s more endearing than a company that has great prices, unlimited selection, can ship items overnight, but also embraces you with its insightful familiarity – letting you know when your favorite brand of shoe is on sale or addressing you by name if you call. These technology-driven personal touches add value to each transaction to make the customer-brand association one of a relationship, not simply a sterile, one-off business transaction. No longer must companies be obsessed about having the absolute lowest prices. Instead, these technology-driven strategies can forge connections so deeply personal that they transform customers into brand evangelists, shouting their brand love from the rooftops… or in today’s world through a #heartfelt comment or sentimental tweet.