In a world where people have a plethora of services, companies have to work harder than ever to keep their existing customers loyal. File Image: IOL
In a world where people have a plethora of services and products available to them, companies have to work harder than ever to keep their existing customers loyal. After all, with just a few taps of their smartphone or laptop keyboard, people can change their insurance provider, bank, or mobile service.

But for those companies that get customer loyalty right, the benefits are clear. Returning customers routinely spend more money on brands they're loyal to. Given that some 84percent of South Africans are members of at least one loyalty programme (the highest in the world), it’s clear that local companies have realised that the more customers they keep loyal, the better it is for their bottom line. But customer loyalty is about more than just having a dedicated programme.

Fortunately, the same digital technologies that make it easier for people to change product and service providers are also ideal for driving customer loyalty. The ideal way to do this is for businesses to turn away from manual processes and procedures, and really start to embrace online channels, especially when it comes to transactional communication including bills, invoices, and account updates.

Research suggests that people check their phones around 80 times a day. It's the first thing many people check when they wake up in the morning and the last they look at before going to sleep at night and the email in-box is at the core of what people are checking on their phones.

It's therefore imperative that companies be where their customers are and communicate with them on the channel they're most comfortable.

Companies that embrace this digital transformation also see higher levels of engagement from their customers, who are are six times more likely to try a new product or service from their preferred brand. By and large, the easiest and most effective way to do this is by using email. The rate at which emails prompt purchases is three times that of social media. It's also an efficient and, largely, safe way to deliver digital versions of customer documentation.

In order to do this effectively, however, organisations need to know how best to use the medium to create a tool that will most effectively build customer retention and loyalty.

Doing so includes:

* The ability to create emails that will personalise content to deliver the most powerful messaging for individual customers at the right time.

* Using the technology to deliver smart, interactive bills, invoices, and other forms of customer documentation.

* Understanding automation, in terms of sending the relevant content at the right time, when the customer needs it.

* The need to be mobile-first, particularly in an age when so many people access their emails via their mobile devices.

These principles extend to the documents sent with them.

Ross Sibbald is a commercial director at Striata.