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How to build loyal relationships with customers via technology

By Rider Latham, co-founder at Secret Spa (www.secretspa.co.uk)

Rider Latham is the co-founder of Secret Spa which he launched alongside his sister Emily Ewart-Perks in October 2015. Secret Spa is the premium on-demand beauty and spa booking service dedicated to providing luxury treatments and exceptional client service.

As an early stage start-up, how to build loyalty is our top priority and the subject of endless debate. At Secret Spa, our technology platform enables our clients to book elite beauty professionals at any time and to any location. We are matchmakers and fundamental to our success is the loyalty of both our clients and freelance beauty professionals. Importantly, our clients have the ability to save and directly book their favourite professionals, and fostering this kind of loyalty is a central aim. Updates to customer service processes and new marketing campaigns can also deliver improvements, however the most powerful way we drive loyalty is with the technology we build.

The biggest challenge we face with technology is making sure we build features that people will love. To do this means battling the mindset that ‘if you build it they will come’. The lean startup and design thinking movements provide an incredible set of principles and methods for putting people at the heart of everything you build. However, understanding the concepts and having the discipline to put them into practice are two different things. When we first launched there was a never ending backlog of bugs and investors were expecting to see new features shipped every week. It was easy to prioritise our pet ideas instead of learning from our users. Doing the hard work and to use Steve Blank’s motto, ‘getting out the building’, is how you create something that people want to use again and again.

Interviews are a good start, however be aware of the temptation to create questions that are designed to confirm your pet ideas. A favourite method of ours is witnessing our app being used in a range of ‘real life’ environments. For example, spending an afternoon riding around with a mobile beauty professional who uses our app can provide incredible insights into how it can be improved. You will witness first hand what it is like to call a customer while stuck in traffic, or confirm a job while trying to park, . Empathy should be at the heart of what you build and you can develop this understanding from listening and witnessing.

When it comes to new features we prioritise those that build relationships between people rather than automates them.  This is dependent on your business, but I would highly recommend putting the customer experience ahead of reducing customer service costs. For example, if you have a question about the makeup artist booked for your wedding, searching through FAQs or communicating with a chatbot is no comparison to talking to an expert. The central goal of our technology is to allow our people to seamlessly achieve different outcomes, even if this requires us to hire more client managers to help over the phone.

With an on-demand service like Secret Spa, booking requests are made 24/7 and we rely on freelance professionals to travel to a location of the client’s choice. Managing expectations at every stage of a booking is critical to making this work. Here automation plays a powerful role and allows us to notify clients and freelancers when bookings are made, confirmed, begun and ended. When things do not go to plan, we automatically flag to clients if a professional has been delayed or inform our professionals when a client needs to reschedule. Life happens but as long as you keep people updated ahead of time they are incredibly understanding.

We are living through the age of data and businesses have access to more information than ever. The challenge is how to use data to be genuinely useful to customers rather than annoying. Deciding how much to proactively sell to customers is critical. We have heavily invested in data analytics so that we can understand how engaged each person is with our platform. Understanding the level engagement of each customer is how we determine when we should nudge them about how we can help. Even then we make sure recommendations are personalised so that if you are interested in a massage we will not contact you about another treatment. We consider ourselves to be our customer’s beauty personal assistant and our goal is to use data to help rather than sell.

Ultimately, we pride ourselves on using the latest technology to disrupt the traditional beauty industry. However, like all businesses today, we are constantly looking over our shoulders aware that the new technology will give rise to businesses that will challenge the loyalty we have built with our customers. Simply investing more on technology is not enough if it is not guided by the right principles. Instead, you must foster loyalty through a sharp focus on the desired outcomes of your customers and take this insight to build the technology that meets those needs.