Recessions, like taxes, are inevitable. They are part of the natural life cycle of a healthy economy; and, while we don’t know when the next recession will happen with any degree of certainty, we do know that recession-proofing your business is an ongoing process that small businesses should take seriously.
In the first part of this series, we looked at how to prepare for a recession by offering unique value, partnering with other businesses, and planning for fluctuations in cash flow. These tactics work across many business types and can be implemented immediately to prepare for whatever the economy throws your way. This second installment will talk about the most important part of your business: your customers.
A recession may be a daunting prospect for you and your business, but when it occurs, it affects everyone. Just as your business feels the pinch, so do your customers. That is why customer engagement is vital to keeping your business in the black until the economy recovers. Customer engagement isn’t just about selling or promoting. It’s a thoughtful, authentic effort to build a steady, reliable community around your enterprise. Here’s how meaningful customer engagement can get you through tough times.
What is a customer engagement strategy?
Experts usually approach customer engagement from two angles: support and service. Your engagement strategy should consider both aspects of the customer relationship holistically. Customer support includes addressing concerns or complaints, but also necessitates looking around your business and seeing the community that sustains it. What value can you provide those populations?
Service involves paying close attention to customer feedback, and not just when an incident occurs. Feedback can help you design marketing campaigns, offer promotions, and fine-tune your offering to help a customer solve a problem or present an opportunity the customer might not have thought about. What can you do to show your customers you’ve got their backs?
How to engage with customers
The support side of customer engagement starts with knowing your customers on a personal level. Clover’s built-in customer management software (including Rewards, Promos, and Feedback) lets you get hyper-focused on creating a great experience for each individual customer. Create customer profiles, track your best customers, and reward them with special, tailored promotions or discounts. Personalized rewards can have a significant impact on customer loyalty—crucial in keeping your business going during a recession. Consider these two data points:
- 56% of customers are loyal to brands they feel a connection with, while 89% are loyal to brands they feel share their values.
- 69% of customers will shop at a retailer based on what they get from their rewards program.
However, great customer engagement goes deeper than sales and rewards. Get to know your customers through surveys or customer focus groups to learn what brings people into your store. What unique value do you provide that keeps people coming back again and again? How can you make their lives easier? Don’t be afraid to ask your customers what they value most and how you can serve their needs better.
How can feedback improve customer service?
Feedback is the next step in building your customer engagement. Online reviews and customer surveys can provide you with new insights into ways you can improve your business. You can also use Clover Feedback to solicit information from your customers without having them post publicly on sites like Yelp or Google.
Dive into your reviews to spot any themes or trends. Are customers frustrated by long wait times or slow service? Is it hard to find your return policy, leading to confusion and irritation? See if there are quick fixes you can make to improve service through staff training, clearer policies, or better shift scheduling.
Then, have a plan for diligently responding to customer feedback. Can you task yourself or someone on your staff with winning back a disgruntled customer every week? Sometimes the loudest complainer can become your biggest advocate if you can address their issues proactively. Find someone with a legitimate gripe who seems reasonable, and try to handle their issue with care and concern. Bad reviews can become assets, rather than liabilities, when managed properly.
Check out some of these resources on the Clover blog for handling customer feedback:
- Enterprise behavior: What VIP customer feedback can tell you
- Harnessing the power of customer testimonials
- How to Handle Negative Reviews
- 5 Questions to Ask When a Customer Has a Complaint
- How to Handle Difficult Customers Effectively
- Business Problem Turnaround: Dealing with Bad Reviews Part 1 and Part 2
How can a business help the community?
After sending personalized rewards and addressing individual feedback, it’s time to think bigger. Full customer engagement requires looking past your storefront to see how you can get involved with your local community.
Think about the specific communities in and around your location. Schools, teams, museums, food banks, churches or mosques, and charities all need a little extra help during a downturn. Does the same little-league team or Girl Scout troop frequent your pizza parlor every Tuesday night? Is there a local poetry slam group or some other casual organization that’s found a recurring home at your establishment? What about a local law firm that buys office lunch every Friday for the team? Keep your eyes peeled for natural communities like these and cultivate them purposefully. You can support emerging communities by offering special group discounts or themed menus.
Find easy ways to act philanthropically through your business. The Clover App Market features tools that make it easy for customers to donate to their favorite local cause when they shop at your store. Here are some apps that make it easy to give back:
- Round Up for Schools: Allow your customers to round up their purchase to the nearest dollar. The donation goes to support a classroom request from a local teacher on DonorsChoose.
- Fundraiser Donation Counter: Participate in charitable missions or fundraisers by expressing a fundraising goal and indicating what percentage of sales goes to a charity.
- 360 Donations: This donation kiosk app runs on a Clover device and is meant to be left semi-unattended so customers walk up and donate themselves. Set it up in your store, or even at a conference to trade show to encourage donations outside of normal business operations.
Seek out partnerships. Work with local organizations of other kinds, including businesses that complement your own. If you’re a pizza parlor open late at night in a college town, why not offer a student discount and an extra free topping during finals week? Partner with a local bakery to serve cookies for dessert, or maybe coffee to fuel a late-night study session.
Be a good neighbor when a serious problem hits. If bad news impacts your community directly, think about what you can do to lend a hand. If a big local employer lays people off, consider offering a small discount for the newly unemployed. If there’s a natural disaster in your area, pitch in where you can to make a difference. Don’t price gouge during or after a natural disaster: for instance, there’s nothing worse than a store selling an electric generator at 5x mark-up following an earthquake or hurricane. Taking advantage of those hit hard by forces beyond their control will destroy any goodwill you’ve built up over the years.
The good news is that all recessions eventually pass. It’s your job as a business owner to stay in business until they do. Customer engagement is valuable in every economic cycle—in good times and bad. It’s worth investing in for the long haul.
Clover is sold by leading U.S. banks including Bank of America, BBVA, Citi, PNC, SunTrust and Wells Fargo. You’ll also find Clover at our trusted partners including CardConnect, Restaurant Depot, and Sam’s Club. For more information, visit us at clover.com.