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Build Brand Loyalty, Even in a Pandemic

When a global pandemic shook up the world in 2020, organizations adapted operations to stay open. Waiting rooms were shuttered, restaurant orders moved curbside and plexiglass walls enclosed grocery clerks. Even museums and retail businesses launched touch-less appointment and check-in systems. 

Business leaders and workers found themselves in stressful and unfamiliar territory trying to survive. And the new safety protocols and barriers bewildered employees and customers alike.

We have officially entered the 20th month since March 2020 — and so have the customers, clients, residents and patients we serve. CEL founder and chief strategist Cindy Leines believes service and hospitality remain critical priorities for long-term business success.

“If delivering a great customer experience and cultivating brand loyalty is a distant memory after so many months of challenging change and stress, it’s time to reevaluate priorities and get to work. None of us can afford to lose our customers simply because they don’t feel well cared for.”

Are satisfied customers possible in 2021?

Yes, undoubtedly. In fact, creating a great experience for a customer now, when pandemic stress is still a reality, is all but guaranteed to leave a positive impression and contribute to a lasting brand loyalty and brand preference. 

Health and safety measures are still essential in communities and organizations. But largely, we have grown accustomed to many of those measures in the last 20 months. In fact, some changes have become surprisingly popular among consumers. Reserve an entry time at the zoo? Sure! Drop by a favorite restaurant for an order to eat at home? No problem. Give a call to the doctor’s office front desk before entering the lobby? Old hat.

But a great customer experience requires more than customers who are familiar with the hoops they have to jump through. More than anything, they want the same kind of person-to-person interaction they knew before COVID. They want to ask their doctor a few questions, wish the car wash attendant a happy Friday and be greeted with a friendly hello when they walk in the door. 

If the measures that COVID forced you to put in place are standing in the way of old-fashioned hospitality, losing your customer base may be closer than you think.

Leaders don’t have to do it all alone

There’s no doubt that leaders in business, healthcare and nonprofit organizations may be on the edge of overwhelm on any good day. Operating a business while caring for a team — from engaging existing staff members to hiring and onboarding new employees — leaves little room for new ideas.

“Over decades leading a business,” Leines said, “I have learned that fellow like-minded business owners can be a great help when I need to solve a problem. Reaching out to a relatable peer to trade ideas about managing customer experience can lead to invaluable insights.”

Leines recommends initiating a friendly brainstorming session with one or more relatable business owners. A half-hour idea swap — in person, on the phone or on Zoom — can bring up answers to customer experience challenges that would have taken you far longer to imagine and develop on your own.

What is brand loyalty or preference — and why does it matter?

Consumers make choices every day — often many times a day. And they are no longer limited to the nearest brick-and-mortar building. From online retailers and healthcare solutions to subscription boxes and custom delivery services, customers enjoy a wide range of choices. 

A consumer’s brand preference will drive their decisions any time money changes hands, whether products, services, or something else. And as nice as logos and jingles can be, brand loyalty or brand preference is fundamentally tied to the emotions a consumer experiences when visiting or communicating with the business.

How does our small business or organization create brand loyalty?

When COVID truly does move into our collective rearview mirror, brand loyalty or preference will have a lasting effect on consumer businesses. Now is the time to make the strongest impression — before, during, and after an interaction.

Creating brand loyalty or brand preference takes time. Consumers typically investigate and sometimes sample other options to meet their needs. They consider the money factor — whether your offering is more or less expensive than other comparable choices, for example. 

Most importantly, they reflect on how each interaction made them feel — especially if that feeling was a strong positive or a strong negative. Even the smallest interactions are likely added to the overall experience of a consumer. Over time, positive emotional experiences will add up — a warm welcome, a caring conversation, a gracious apology, a problem solved. And this stacking of positive experiences will build a stronger brand preference among each person you serve.

Jump-start a great experience for new customers

The pandemic has made many people more calculated and cautious about the risks of interacting with a new business. Onboarding new customers or patients with intention creates an invaluable opportunity to build brand preference from the very first interaction.

These simple ideas can make a world of difference in the first interactions you have with a potential or new customer.

  • A welcome bag. Give a new customer something to take home that will benefit them after their experience — and remind them of your business when they see or use it.
  • Helpful COVID information. Don’t just send a waiver or screener link. Take this opportunity to briefly explain the procedures in place to keep them safe.
  • Friendly follow-up. A simple phone call or text message to check in after an appointment or visit can be a positive reminder of the interaction and give the new customer the chance to ask a lingering question or share a concern. With a little training and clear expectations, this task can be delegated to any member on your team who enjoys delighting a customer.

Whether your customer or patient base is full of loyal long-time customers — or your goals also include attracting newcomers — brand loyalty and brand preference strategies are an essential part of your small business or healthcare marketing plan. By investing in consistently positive customer experiences week by week and month by month, you will be in a position to drive the long-term success of your company. 

Published on: September 27, 2021