Retailers around the world are facing an unprecedented challenge: How do you get customers to buy from a store when the storefront is closed?

Here’s how one retailer successfully tackled the problem and three takeaways you can apply to your company, even if you’re not in the retail sector.

Esprit de la Femme is a lingerie boutique in a small town in British Columbia, Canada. The store sells high-end lingerie and sleepwear — not exactly items you’d expect to fly off the shelves during quarantine. Especially since the store is currently closed to shoppers.

But Esprit de la Femme is holding steady.

Owner Cheryl Cote was a guest at the recent launch virtual party for my book, Keep Your Customers, because Esprit de la Femme’s story is a case study in the book. At the party, we talked about the processes the store is putting into place to survive the current business reality.

It began with knowing her best customers. That alone isn’t easy. As Cheryl shared, she used to think her customer was, “anybody who walked through the door.” But if you’re selling to everybody, you’re selling to nobody.

Over time, Cheryl identified her best customers – the cohort of customers who are emotionally invested in what Esprit de la Femme is offering. Those people are a company’s most lucrative, loyal customers. By knowing her “lucrative loyals,” Esprit de la Femme was able to refine its inventory, marketing and internal processes to attract those customers.

Not only did Cheryl attract lucrative loyals, she took clear, consistent steps to build relationships with them. Cheryl and her team worked hard behind the scenes to create an experience that would not just attract but retain those customers who were inclined to become loyal.

Loyalty isn’t conjured in a moment. Loyalty is built over time. Loyalty evolves when a company delivers excellence consistently. Loyal customers feel seen, heard and valued – over and over again. Esprit de la Femme did the work to nurture customer relationships and cultivate loyalty before COVID-19 existed.

Dealing with a Pandemic

When the pandemic hit, Esprit de la Femme had done the work to establish trust, and were well-positioned to continue their customer relationships. Even when the store was closed to shoppers. Cheryl and her team thought about their inventory from a customer’s point of view.

They asked, “what do customers need during forced time at home?” Cheryl’s team gathered their loungewear, pajamas, and other comfort items. They crafted a message that would resonate for their unique lucrative loyals. Then they reached out directly to those customers. “Because we put in the work to build relationships, we were able to reach out by phone,” Cheryl shared. The store continued to make sales – even to long-distance customers.

As Cheryl said during the book launch interview, “people can buy anywhere right now. But our customers are still choosing to shop here.”

You can watch the entire interview with Cheryl HERE

There are three key takeaways from my conversation with Cheryl that are driving Esprit de la Femme’s success during their temporary closure:

  1. Know your customers. Every business has a unique cohort of lucrative loyals. The better you know yours, the more clearly you will be able to speak clearly to them in a way that cuts through all the noise and beckons them like an irresistible siren’s song.
  2. Build customer relationships. Cultivating loyalty doesn’t happen overnight. It required consistent application of process across your company. Whether you’re a tiny team or a large company, you develop the trust you need for loyalty by delivering a consistent relationship that customers can rely on over time.
  3. Pick up the phone. During these extraordinary times, the companies that make the effort to reinforce relationships will be the ones who retain customers most effectively. Now more than ever, it’s imperative to take action to keep your customers. Picking up the phone may not be the right move for every company. Your unique lucrative loyals will drive the steps that will be best for you. Whatever it is, this is the moment for proactive outreach to ensure your best customers feel seen, heard and valued.

These are just a few of the action steps Cheryl and her team applied to Esprit de la Femme. Additional actions – and more of the Esprit de la Femme story – are laid out in Keep Your Customers.

Grab your copy of Keep Your Customers to improve customer retention in your company.