Recession Proof: How to Help Your Customer During a Downturn

  |  February 7, 2008   |  Comments

Use optimization techniques to increase your company's value to customers and drive deeper engagement with your brand.

Last year, I wrote about the uncertain times ahead and how to be prepared for a crisis. I can't claim any mystical insight into the economy's workings, but I'll take full credit for giving you fair warning. The recession seems to have arrived (at least as I write this; who knows what next week will bring).

To prepare for a crisis, I had proposed three action steps to take:

  • Build a crisis plan.

  • Add crisis KPI (define) levels to your scorecards.

  • Monitor better information.

These steps are focused on what you can do from inside your organization. They're intended to prepare you to monitor the coming storm and survive the onslaught.

In this column, I'll examine how to come to your customers' aid. Think of this as marketing outreach: help them get the most value from their online experience and they help you through loyalty to your business.

One of the first things we see leading up to a recession is a pullback in consumer spending. People become worried about how much money they'll have in the future and start to make cuts here and there. Those cuts often impact luxury items hardest but can also affect staples. What does this mean to you?

If you're a commerce site, plan offers now that drive the value side of your relationship with customers. Perhaps it means offering discounts for larger purchases or building a loyalty program for your best shoppers. The key here is to use your optimization infrastructure to relentlessly test offers and see how the market reacts. If we enter into an extended recession, your ability to test and adapt will be a huge differentiator in a market where every business scrambles for customers and their dollars.

If you run another type of site, such as support, branding, or community, your goal should be to help customers maximize the overall value of the time they spend with you. Specifically, find ways to deliver messages promoting the value of their engagement and your brand. Customers may end up spending a lot more time online when they're not out spending money. Use these changing market dynamics to find ways to deepen engagement.

If I were running customer support for a computer manufacturer and the market was turning south, I'd make sure my support site provided valuable information on extending the product's life (such as selling an extended warranty), making value-based purchasing decisions (as opposed to feature/function based), and emphasizing free support services. Your brand-building site might be a great place to launch a new community on recycling, consumer shopping tips, or good investment strategies. Choose topics relevant to your audience and your business, but keep in mind the psychology of consumers faced with economic challenges. Certainly one thing every site should promote is the fact that you're hiring (if you are hiring). When people are in danger of losing their job, they spend a lot of time searching for a new one.

What's key is to use optimization techniques to increase the value to your customer, drive deeper engagement with your brand, and help make any economic downturn a little easier for everyone to bear.

Turning our attention to analytics, the single most important factor to remember is data don't lie (but they're always subject to interpretation). The best indicator you have about changes in your business and perhaps the economy as a whole is site analytics. They're a wonderful crystal ball in which you can find enlightenment and guidance.

Is your average purchase per user dropping? Are people spending less or perhaps reallocating their spending across more items at a lower price or buying fewer items? What do the numbers mean, and how can they help you change your offers?

When you see traffic change (increase or decrease) and you can't understand why, dig into the numbers. Sometimes it's because of a change you've made, but other times it's because of some change in the market. Every now and then there's no readily apparent reason for change. I hate to say, "Blame the economy," but it's certainly worth considering.

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Shane Atchison

In 1998, Shane co-founded ZAAZ to advocate a different approach to Web services — one that respects and delivers on the power of the individual and the promise of Web technologies. As CEO, Shane leads the company's long-term strategic vision of working with leading financial service organizations, consumer brands, startups, non-profits, and community-based organizations, helping each realize the potential of the Internet and its meaningful impact on their business.

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