Every successful sports team has a “go-to” player; someone who can be counted on to perform and deliver whatever is needed in specific situations. As a small-business owner, you want your company to be a “go-to” resource for your customers, the place they’ll turn to whenever they need a certain product or service, regardless of other options that may be available.
To achieve that distinction, you have to develop loyalty among your customers. At first glance, that might seem easy to do — give them what they want, and they’ll come back, right? Not necessarily. Customers have always wanted to feel valued and know that their specific needs will receive special attention. But building customer loyalty has become more challenging with the convergence of trends such as easy access to data about competing companies, more price-driven or location-driven purchasing decisions due to economic factors and a sense of greater expectations of value from that purchase.
Fortunately, there are many tactics to foster customer loyalty that can be easily integrated into your day-to-day operations. A simple “thank-you for your business” will go a long way, but so will a personalized thank-you note, especially in the digital age. Don’t cut and paste sentiments or use a form letter; think about what those customers have needed, and let them know you appreciate their business.
Creating value will help boost loyalty. Ask customers if there is anything else you could be doing for them. Then, after they tell you, do it. If you blog or send an e-newsletter, include some stories or links to topics they may find interesting, or relate to your product or service. You also may want to consider incentives such as discounts or freebies for frequent or long-term customers.
Review each customer “touch point” — your phones, your website, your store — to determine the kind of reception customers get and how helpful each one is from the customer’s point of view. And make sure your employees feel valued. When they feel good about working for you, they’ll give customers a better experience.
Even if your best efforts fall short and a customer goes elsewhere, you can still gain from the experience. Ask them why they switched. If there’s something you can change or improve on, do so. You may not regain that customer, but you can use that input to better serve the ones you have and the ones you hope to attract in the future.
(Reprinted from The Daily Progress, Charlottesville, VA, April 21, 2014: http://centralvirginia.score.org.)
For local information on how to cultivate customer loyalty, our North Central Florida SCORE chapter in Gainesville, FL has volunteers with many years of expertise doing just that in their business lives. Our counselors, mentors and workshop instructors offer practical experience and knowledge to show entrepreneurs how to cultivate loyalty in their customers. Visit www.northcentralflorida.score.org and connect with the “counselors to America’s business”.