Companies are making much greater efforts to retain customers and build customer loyalty than they did previously as the economic slowdown of the past few years has dragged on, according to research from retail loyalty specialist GI Insight. This article is copyright 2012 The Best Customer Guide.

The survey of more than 1,000 British consumers found that 74% have seen firms "wake up to the need to give their customers better, more individual service, attention and offers" as businesses and their clientele have continued to face tough economic conditions in recent years.

The research also showed that firms have maintained their focus on building loyalty even as the UK has moved out of recession, with 58% of consumers saying that many of the companies they buy from had sent a greater number of relevant and personalised communications and offers during the previous twelve months.

In fact, it seems that companies have made greater efforts to develop stronger relationships with their customers using data gathered through loyalty schemes and other sources, as 54% of the consumers surveyed said they believed that companies they deal with had used their knowledge of customer preferences, tendencies, and needs to improve the service they offer.

Many companies have relied on loyalty schemes to appeal to customers through the difficult economic times, with 68% of consumers saying that a loyalty programme had been a factor in keeping them loyal to at least one company during the past few years. Indeed, the research revealed the vital role loyalty schemes play in enabling companies to gather the information they need to better target and build relationships with their customers, with 77% of respondents saying they don't like giving personal details to a company unless it is through an established loyalty programme.

Encouragingly, 58% of consumers felt that they had received value in return for their loyalty and, as a result, had stayed faithful to certain brands, retailers and suppliers - despite the fact that only 40% had noticed that the loyalty schemes they belong to are increasing points, improving rewards, or providing more bonus point opportunities.

According to Andy Wood, managing director for GI insight, "This confirms that companies are finding that aggressive customer retention strategies, supported by strong loyalty programmes. are working for them in the current tough economic climate. During a recession, economic hardship encourages promiscuous shopping behaviour as consumers seek the cheapest deals."