Listening and responding to customers is essential

Social media is now widely regarded as an essential medium for brands to engage with their customers. Consumer expectations have evolved, and there is significant demand for brands to not only be present in the social space, but to be responsive and have a real dialogue with customers.

The large-scale potential for one-to-one communications with consumers within social media provides brands with a great opportunity to have deeper and more personalised relationships with their customer base. Within social media, there is scope to take customer engagement to the next level and drive customer loyalty.

Starbucks is heralded as the brand leading the charge in this area. They have done an excellent job of socialising their Starbucks Rewards programme, enabling customers to access their loyalty cards through Facebook, and supplementing that with additional rewards and vouchers available through their social presences. This is supported by My Starbucks Idea, a programme encouraging customers to share their ideas of how to make Starbucks better.

In a similar initiative, RBS has launched the Ideas Bank, a social platform where customers can submit ideas on how RBS can improve its products and services. There is, of course, risk associated with tangibly encouraging consumer opinion in this way. But demonstrating that you’re a brand that listens to its customers undoubtedly has a positive impact on customer loyalty in the long term.

Although few other brands seem to have formalised their social loyalty programmes in the way Starbucks have, some accepted best practice is beginning to emerge to engage customers and drive loyalty through social.

Listening and responding to customers’ feedback, positive and negative, is essential. Providing exclusives, incentives or offers that reward loyalty is an accepted way to add value to customer relationships. Identifying both detractors and advocates, and carefully managing relationships with them is important to maintain credibility.

This best practice has developed in line with consumer expectations around how brands should behave in the social space. Although apparently simple, many brands are still failing to implement accepted best practice, which can result in backlash and ultimately has a negative impact on customer loyalty.