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Commercial Business Growth: How to build customer loyalty in a post-pandemic world?

Written by Latifa Yedroudj on Wednesday, 30 March 2022. Posted in Scaling up, Engagement, People, Interviews

Customer relationships – How important are they? And how do we build them?

Customer relationships – How important are they? And how do we build them?

Michael Hayman, entrepreneur, author and broadcaster, Lara Morgan, founder, investor and entrepreneur, Sophie Milliken, CEO of Moja Group, Piers Linney, entrepreneur, former investor on BBC Dragons’ Den and Roan Lavery, Co-founder & CEO FreeAgent, cloud-base accountancy software provider joined us for the first day of Elite Business on 10 March in the Commercial Business Growth panel, discussing the importance of a building strong customer relationships in a post-pandemic era and a digital ‘boom’, as well as how to pivot your business during times of uncertainty. 

Roan Lavery, CEO of FreeAgent, leading online accounting system, spoke about the importance of customer loyalty – and how an act of kindness can go a long way. Sometimes it’s not always about the profits, but rather, building a long-standing relationship with customers. “When the pandemic happened and lockdown kicked in, it was a real pivotal opportunity for customer loyalty, and you could either make or break at that point,” Roan said. “People were looking to businesses and suppliers that they worked with to see if they could step up and help them. People in the world were under a huge amount of financial pressure. So, we did a simple thing, we did payment holidays. One of our customers came to us and said their business was struggling to afford our service, so we didn’t charge them for six months. 

Host Oli Barrett challenged Roan, asking him: “That’s compassionate of you, but to what extent is that now part of their expectation?” However, Roan replied: “I think people get the fact that we’re hopefully not going to be living in a series of pandemics and lockdowns. But that kind of gesture was a powerful way to build our relationships. They don’t expect that all the time but they know that you have their back when it really counted, and I think that goes a long way.” 

Sophie, CEO of Moja Group, reiterated Roan’s point about customer relationships and why it is essential in bringing your business to greater heights – particularly during the pandemic. With thousands of businesses switching to e-commerce it was hard to stand out. But relying on customer loyalty was the key to success, she said. “It’s very much about that personalisation with customers, and just communicating with people,” Sophie explained. “The business that I was running during the pandemic was 95% big events and overnight that just totally went. It was very much about going back to the basics and making sure those fantastic relationships we built with clients continued and how could we serve them online. And online became a super crowded market. So how do you stand out? How do you continue to deliver excellent service when everyone is competing in the same space? It’s hard but I think it’s going back to relationships.” 

Since the pandemic, the world of business has moved into a digital space. Businesses who were able to move online and adapt to the changing times we're able to fare better than their counterparts, Piers Morgan, entrepreneur and CEO of Moblox, said. It is important for businesses to speak to their customers and find out what their issues are, he said, to find a way to fill the gap in the market and create a demand for their services. “I think nothing has changed really, it’s been sped up,” Piers said. “Things are more digital. With Moblox, we’re focused on small business owners and there’s a huge amount of uncertainty but they want things to be better, simpler, ideally cheaper, faster and especially more flexible. They’re still looking for the same things, but more people are looking at a digital space. You have to make sure that you can deliver in that space, and it can be hard to do if you’re not used to it... Businesses that have fared the best during the pandemic are the ones that become more digital. They pivoted, they moved online. The secret is always to talk to your customers and ask them what their issues are. Don’t always ask them what they want. And just reflect it back as much as possible and keep reiterating, that’s just the way you have to work this way.” 

There is still a lot of uncertainty about the future of businesses, Michael Hayman said. The pandemic has changed the way companies are now operating, but there is still a lot of ambiguity around what will happen in the oncoming years. Consumers are now more ‘empowered’ than ever, and it is important to tread carefully and listen to your customers' changing needs and wants. “There’s been a major pivot to digital, both in terms of the way we work and the way we buy,” Michael explained. “The question is we just don’t know if that’s created the next chapter of change that we’re all now going to live in or the degree to which things might balance out given where we go from here. And I think this is the point when you go through something like a pandemic or a major global moment, it’s very rare that within the first few months and weeks you’ll get the real understanding of what has changed. What we are living in is a very uncertain world. There are a lot of things up in the air. Customers are more demanding because they’re more empowered, they know they can do things and make choices with their products. They can punish companies they don’t approve of us well. This also explains why the larger companies are treading very carefully right now in terms of their relationships with their customers.”

Lara spoke about the importance of collaboration between businesses, and how this can not only draw more customers in, but also allow you to build on your skills and learn from other thriving companies. Several brands are also operating on an ‘experiential’ experience with their customers, operating both in the digital space and in real life, to cater to consumers’ changing needs. “I think collaboration is working really well,” Lara explained. There has also been a drop off since being trapped. The human is wanting to get out and there is nervousness about getting out. We’re in a juxtaposition to how much is going to say digital habit purchasing versus ‘I’d like to go out and touch, feel and select’. So retail is changing to experiential retail so that they can show a product that’s different... The more we collaborate with other brands, those things allow us to improve our community and be authentic about the service proposition.”

About the Author

Latifa Yedroudj

Latifa Yedroudj

Latifa Yedroudj has joined the Elite team to fully immerse herself in the business side of journalism, a strong passion of hers cultivated from young having co-run her mother's start up business since she was 18. Her interests lie in a wide range of subjects, including start ups, business, travel, and anything entrepreneurial she can get her hands on. She has worked for some of the biggest names in journalism including The Guardian and The Mirror. Follow her on @latifayed on Twitter for her latest journo rants.

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