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With its growing prevalence, the Internet of Things is ushering in a new form of ecommerce – the Commerce of Things, where everyday objects are internet connected and capable of initiating a series of purchases on their own. This new way of buying and selling online is radically changing traditional ecommerce rules and creating a new set of challenges for companies. In this new world of commerce, the product sale is no longer just a transaction; it’s the beginning of an ongoing relationship between brands and customers. Successful online brands are focused on nurturing this relationship – and taking deliberate steps to turn transactional customers into loyal members. 

There is a subtle but critical difference between a repeat customer and a member. Understanding this difference is the key to succeeding in an environment that is swiftly becoming a hyper-connected network of consumers who value the access and amenities that come with membership.

How do you build these relationships?

1.)   Create lasting relationships to make members out of customers. Members share the experience and the story of the brand, rather than just execute a basic business transaction or product purchase. For years, Disney, where everything is a show and employees are cast members, has stood by the adage “Be Our Guest,” calling to their customers in a more intimate, personable way. Cable companies refer to their customers as “subscribers;” LinkedIn has always called users “members.”

To move customers from “transaction to membership” on a relationship continuum, companies must provide extra, incremental value that replaces pure monetary benefits with more intangible rewards of being, in Disney’s case, a guest.

2.)   Use data and metrics to strengthen relationships. Once a company starts to grow its base of members, a whole new set of metrics becomes the benchmark for evaluating the customer relationship.

Asking one simple question, “What is a subscriber’s actual usage?” can yield revelations regarding whether someone is a transactional customer or an invested member. For example, January is the peak season for signing new members at fitness centers around the country. Are those who sign up then really members? If they are not actually getting personal value out of their membership, then the relationship remains transactional and fleeting at best.

Good data is powerful. If the data shows customers are not acting like members, then a company can follow up to discern the true nature of the relationship and figure out how it can become more valuable to the customer. This creates a win for both the customer and the company. 

Delta Airlines’ SkyMiles program, for example, makes great use of data to cut through barriers that could otherwise prevent strong relationships from developing. When members call in, the automated phone system quickly recognizes callers based on their phone numbers, addresses them by name and asks about recent or upcoming trips.

Personalizing interactions, continually making improvements and utilizing customer insights are key in this new, Commerce of Things world. Taking these steps can help transform transactional customers into loyal members – and take an online business to the next level.

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