The cadence of customer development
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The cadence of customer development

Use these steps to build a better customer journey pre-visit, onsite and post-visit.

July 24, 2020

At Cultivate’20 Virtual, Jourdan Cole, Maria Zampini and Katie Elzer-Peters shared how IGCs can improve customer expectations by focusing on three phases of the customer journey. Their session was titled “A Retailer's Planning Guide For 2021 Series: Customer Development for 2021” and they provided audience members with various tips to strengthen and build their customer base.

“Customer development sets customers up for success, whether that’s food security or stress relief, and it ensures that you will have repeat visits from customers,” Elzer-Peters said.

Here’s what IGCs should know about the three phases of customer development.

Pre-visit phase

Jourdan Cole, marketing and communications manager at Mt. Cuba Center, shared how IGCs can drive new and existing customers through social media channels.

“Continuing on social media is key to your brand's success during this time. Whether it's news or products, people are looking to find it online,” Cole said. “And this digital transition is not going away. Social distancing and shelter in place laws have people looking for new ways to connect.”

She noted that while many physical doors have been closed (and reopened) since the pandemic started, the doors to social media are always open, and provides digital markers ample opportunity to get creative while connecting online. She broke it down in three steps: listen, plan and speak.

The more connected IGCs are with their local community, the more growth opportunities their business will have. IGCs must first determine where they want to listen and consider demographics:

  • Baby Boomers/Generation X – Facebook
  • Millennials – Instagram
  • Generation Z – TikTok or Snapchat

Next, IGCs must determine who they want to listen to. Cole suggested community leaders, such as school principals, artists and leaders of cultural organizations on social media. Their posts will keep IGCs in the know about local events and community updates, and they also open the door to partnership opportunities. She also recommended using hashtags, which allows businesses to dive deep into trends and get a pulse on the larger market conversation. This way, IGCs can give their audiences what they need before they even ask for it, Cole said.

Next, plan. IGCs must figure out where to post their message. To do this, they should choose one or two platforms to prioritize. Here’s where the majority of the audience is:

  • Facebook skews older (50+ audience), but many of the 20+ demographic is also on Facebook Instagram, which is popular among the 20-35 demographic
  • Twitter skews toward the 35+ crowd and should be used for quick news pieces
  • Pinterest is a good choice for IGCs that have a lot of quality product shots or DIYs that they want to emphasize.
  • TikTok or Snapchat will reach the youngest audience — and this generation will have spending power in the near future.

Retailers should update their hours on their website or Google. They should appoint one or two designated social media workers and have one person in charge of all platforms, or one person per platform for consistency.

Finally, IGCS must figure out their voice. IGCs should be relatable with their audience, but never offensive, she said. Have the social media manager create an editorial calendar of social media posts and think about any new changes happening at the IGC. Then, they should pair that with the three main communication points. For example:

  • What's new in your store?
  • Do you have new safety procedures?
  • How are things different when customers are shopping now?
  • Are you offering delivery or curbside pickup?
  • Are you offering contactless checkout?
  • Do you have updated business hours?

Cole suggested that retailers use an empathetic voice, online and in-store.

“Having this empathetic voice will help to make the lives of your customers a little brighter and it will help to create long term loyalty. You have to remember, everyone is trying to do their best right now, and they're balancing their personal lives at the same time,” Cole said.

Onsite phase

Marketing expert Maria Zampini, president and founder of PR firm UpShoot LLC, shared what retailers should consider once customers come to their site. First off, retailers need to make a great first impression. IGCs must set the stage beforehand (which falls into the pre-visit phase) and let customers know via their social media channels or website what precautions they are taking to keep customers and employees safe.

“I think it's better that you tell them in advance, and you show them when they get there what's happening, and what you're doing — versus them having to ask,” Zampini said.

It’s up to store leaders and managers to set the pace, tone and welcoming environment for their customers. Employees should take the time to learn customers’ names, ask what they’re looking for and how they can best serve them. Employees must acknowledge that the customer is always right, even when they're wrong. Associates can turn negative situations around when they ask an unhappy customer what they want. It will save time, and, in most cases, what customers want is less than what the IGC would have offered, she said.

Additionally, not every customer is not going to have an innate knowledge of plants. When a customer arrives with a dead plant asking for advice, don’t be a “plant snob” and don’t shame them, she said. This will deter them from attempting to buy plants in the future, and IGCs will lost repeat purchases. Instead, employees should give customers advice without judgment and help them choose what best fits their needs.

IGCs should cross-merchandise curated products with simple, eye-catching displays to boost additional sales. Zampini said IGCs should keep it simple, so that it’s easy for the customer to decide without being overwhelmed. It’s also OK to glean ideas from other garden centers for inspiration. Signage is important, and it’s an easy way for customers to find exactly what they’re looking for, she said.

“Facts tell benefits. So yes, it's nice to know what the plan name is, but tell me why I should buy this plant. What problem does it solve for me? Or why should I spend the money (that I don't have a lot of right now) on this plant? What is it going to do for me at this point in time?” Zampini said.

Efficient signage is critical in closing the sale, and retailers need to go the extra mile. But above all, associates must greet customers with the utmost kindness and respect.

“Don't forget, a smile is worth a thousand words. Your smile may be the only one someone sees now a days. If you have a mask, you can still see it in someone's eyes if they're smiling at you,” Zampini said.

Post-visit phase

Finally, retailers must focus on the post-visit phase, and marketing expert Katie Elzer Peters shared some of the top tips IGCs should follow to ensure repeat sales. Elzer-Peters, author and founder of PR firm The Garden of Words LLC, said the first thing retailers must do is continue to use their brand voice, which was established during the pre-visit and onsite phases. IGCs need to keep brand messaging cohesive during all three parts of the customer journey, from matching the social media tone to in-store visits and beyond.

“You don't want to be super sleek and modern in your brand voice or with your email marketing or your social media posts or anything you're doing,” Elzer-Peters said. “And then when people get to your site, it's very rustic or down home. There's nothing wrong with either of those two things. They just need to be cohesive.”

Next, garden centers must create interactive sales opportunities, which many IGCs have excelled at due to the pandemic.

“You're going to have some customers that are totally fine with coming in and shopping, browsing, as long as they're allowed to. I mean, who knows if we're going to have another shutdown and then you have other people that either they don't have time, or they don't feel comfortable,” Elzer-Peters said.

IGCs can address this by offering personal shopper sessions via FaceTime or consulting appointments. They can also try offering Zoom classes for specific plant care needs, and then offer a coupon to accompany the paid-for class.

Social media is another great way to engage with customers post-visit. IGCs should offer social media contests where users can post photos of their gardens and tag the IGC on Instagram or Facebook. IGCs can also go live on their social channels and conduct Q&As or tours. Or if they have ideas, offer premade kits available for curbside pickup, delivery or drop-off and conduct an online workshop with them. Retailers can also participate on apps, such as GrowIt!, and become part of a community where they can share their expertise.

“What people are really craving right now because they literally, physically cannot do it, is they're craving connection,” she said.

Another big post-visit initiative is outbound communication. Give customers the information they need to make better purchasing decisions by using social media, email or SMS texts. If IGCs haven’t tried email marketing yet, Elzer-Peters suggested retailers use MailChimp, which is east to use and cost-effective. Email marketing is a must, and it has some of the highest ROI of any marketing that IGCS can do, she said. SMS or text marketing is also a good place to start, and it can be especially helpful when alerting customers their pickup or delivery orders are ready.

Above all, IGCs need to keep their messaging benefits driven. Offer products and services based around timely concepts, such as staycation promotions, gardening to de-stress and relax or even the benefits of growing their own food. Helping customers feel accomplished should be a central in any IGC’s messaging or copywriting.

IGCs should merge their messaging with their merchandising to capitalize on the growing gardening trends, too.

“Gardening does not stop after July 4, and this is a really great year to try to make that happen. People are still at home. They still want things to do. They're stuck at home, they're staycationing — help them with their patio furniture, creating their own oasis. Keep the messaging going and keep their lives going,” Elzer-Peters said.  

Her final tip is that IGCs should cultivate relationships with garden communicators, such as newspaper columnists, master gardeners, local authors, Instagram influencers or GardenComm International members. Strike up conversations and relationships with these communicators for valuable marketability and partnerships.

“These people can help you amplify your message. And a lot of places are really not taking advantage of those connections,” Elzer-Peters concluded.