Last week I attended the B2B Online conference in Chicago where I was a panelist for a session entitled Building Effective Loyalty Programs for Customers Who Don’t Trust a “Sale.

The panel discussion focused on different perspectives on how to approach, build and manage online customer loyalty programs. As an Evergage representative, I shared my thoughts on how to execute online customer loyalty programs, whereas the other panelists – from Dell and Mohawk Industries – provided examples of how customer loyalty programs are facilitated within their organizations.

Leading up to the session, I found myself asking, what is online customer loyalty? In other words, if you were to start from scratch with a company-wide initiative to improve customer loyalty, where would you begin?

One’s natural inclination might be to create some type of rewards program similar to what’s commonly used in the airline industry. And there’d be nothing wrong with that, as these types of programs are proven to be effective. But if you were to strip loyalty down to its most basic elements and what you’re ultimately trying to accomplish, what would you focus on?

While I know this can vary from industry to industry, in my humble opinion, companies can drastically improve online customer loyalty by relentlessly focusing on the customer’s needs and interests not only once they become a customer, but also (and especially) before they buy. To do this, companies should focus on three key areas.

1. Recognition

Is the person on your website a first-time visitor or a returning customer? Do you know their company or industry? Did they land on your site from an organic search, referring website or an ad or email campaign?

The answer to each of these questions can be used to define and deliver unique experiences. In a simple B2B example, an HVAC manufacturer we work with personalizes visitor experiences based on geography and local weather conditions. If you visit its site from Chicago in the winter, your experience will be different than if you visit from Miami in the summer.

Uniquely catering to each and every visitor can go a long way to improving engagement.

2. Adding Value

Is the visitor interested in certain products? Have they actively explored a particular solution? What content, web pages or blog posts have they been most engaged with?

A visitor’s explicit and implicit interactions on your site or mobile app provide clues to their true interests. These insights can, in turn, be used to add value throughout a visitor’s journey. For instance, a technology manufacturer uses Evergage to promote technical manuals – which have been proven to drive conversions – once a visitor has expressed interest in a particular product.

Helping customers validate a purchase decision with supporting content is like having a knowledgeable sales rep appear at precisely the right time.

3. Make Things Easy

Do you know what a customer is truly interested in? Have they purchased from you before? If so, do you know what they’ve purchased, their preferred price point, brands or product categories?

If your site sells thousands or tens of thousands of products, you can often simplify a buyer’s experience by removing offerings they’re not interested in, or highlighting relevant products. This can be accomplished through one-to-one product recommendations, promoting previously viewed products, or even re-ordering the navigation to highlight most frequented categories.

There are many more examples that could be used to illustrate these points, but the bottom line is that regardless of whether you’re a B2B or B2C company, if you focus on knowing your customers, adding value, and streamlining their experience, you will inevitably drive greater loyalty.