5 Tips for Building Customer Loyalty
Most companies know that long-term customers are the lifeblood of their business, so it’s important to encourage loyalty in everyone who walks through your door or visits your website. Rather than waiting to see whether a particular customer “deserves” special treatment, try treating every patron as special right from the start. Your improved attitude is bound to drive repeat business.
Here are five tips for transforming first-time customers into lifelong fans:
- Deliver service that exceeds expectations. Go beyond the basics (i.e., making sure orders are correct, on time, etc.). You can do a lot more, such as offering technical support and training your staff to deal with customer issues promptly and thoroughly. If a customer has an unusual request, do your best to fulfill it. Think like a customer — and ask your staff to do the same. If a customer is dissatisfied, find out why and make it easy for him to return his purchase. Apologize without making excuses and offer a solution that works.
- Provide exceptional value. This follows closely on the heels of exceeding expectations. If you have a blog or send out a regular newsletter to customers, don't use it to promote your business (or not primarily). Offer in-depth articles on how to get added value from a purchase or share "inside secrets" on issues related to what you sell. Convey a sense that you're a partner in the customer experience, not an indifferent third party. Any information that improves or makes someone's life easier will be greatly appreciated.
- Ask for feedback and listen closely to it. Customers will tell you what it takes to keep them coming back, if you ask them. Options: (1) Include a questionnaire with each purchase; (2) conduct a casual telephone or email survey; or (3) track online purchasing behavior. However you choose to survey customers, the key questions are, "How can we serve you better? and "What would you like to buy from us that we don't already have?" Most people won't be shy about answering. Use their input to improve or expand your offerings.
- Offer something special. Bring people back by offering special gifts or exclusive discounts. For example, consider taking 5 percent off your regular prices for "premium" customers or giving a 3 percent discount to new customers who pay in advance. You can even call these “loyalty discounts” to reinforce the idea that you value customers who keep coming back. Incentives are another effective technique: When a customer makes a significant purchase, why not recognize her with a free gift or a gift card that builds points toward an exclusive discount on a future purchase?
- Build an atmosphere of trust. Always do what you say you're going to do. Your product or service must deliver on its promise every time. Customers will come to rely on you — and do business with you again and again. Once this rapport is established, everyone wins.
Lee Polevoi is an award-winning business writer specializing in the challenges and opportunities facing small business. He is former Senior Writer at Vistage International, a global membership organization of CEOs.