Keeping your customers coming back for more is essential to running a successful business. Some businesses serve recurring needs and others, less-frequently occurring ones. A full-service accounting firm or a grocery store will most likely have a steady flow of customers, whereas a disaster-management company or costume shop will tend to attract one-time customers.
Both business models have challenges to encouraging loyalty and staying relevant. Either way, there are simple yet effective ways to keep your best customers.
Be a Trusted Adviser
In the age of information abundance, which includes one-size-fits-all recommendations and conflicting messages, customers value sources of consistently trustworthy and personalized advice. Time-pressed, they also want to make sound decisions quickly. Techniques to shape the customer experience and dispense expertise succinctly yet effectively include:
1. Present carefully-selected merchandise broad enough to cover a range of needs and style preferences in key categories but not overwhelming in choices. Retail shop owners can make options manageable by hand-picking items for the sales floor and offering consultations for special orders. E-commerce merchants may offer a deeper selection but provide online filtering tools for ease of locating items.
2. Make purchase proposals with recommendations appropriate to customers’ applications. Customers want to make independent decisions, but your expertise will allow them to save time in analyzing loads of research and drilling down to features most pertinent to their needs. And, because they do not have to buy and test multiple products before finding the one that performs as desired, customers may be able to save money on pricier purchases.
3. Help customers to get results. Make sure your customers use your products and services correctly and integrate them appropriately. Sell complementary items or partner with complementary vendors to provide a one-stop shopping experience.
4. Deliver sophistication but avoid complexity. Customers often have divergent expectations, desiring to be part of the solution while looking to your business to solve their problems. Find ways to streamline the decision-making process in ways that do not short-circuit customer involvement or compromise integrity of solutions.
Grow with Your Customers
Your customers will look elsewhere if your business does not keep pace with customers’ growth. Consumers advance in knowledge, accomplishments, and maturity (hopefully); likewise, business customers grow in volume, capabilities, quality demands, and market reach. Ways to achieve organic growth for your business and better serve customers include:
5. Adjust to the needs of customers that are growing in size and sophistication. Keep approaches that attract new, entry-level customers but upgrade certain products, services, processes, etc. to serve larger and more complex accounts.
6. Create, package, and sell offerings that support higher and higher levels of performance. Some customers will strengthen and hone their capabilities rather than simply grow larger and more complex. Find ways to facilitate excellence in their endeavors.
7. Innovate. Launch new lines and fine-tune existing items. Repurpose products, develop new products, or envision new uses of intellectual property.
8. Make business changes that reflect changes in the competitive environment and customers’ buying habits. Integrate long-lasting fads into your offerings. Adopt competitors’ ideas that are easy to implement or seem especially profitable. Reconfigure pricing structures.
Connect with People
Customers like associating a business with a human face, not just because they like the warmth of interaction but because they feel that there is a person who is attending to their best interests. Appealing to the emotional component of decision making reinforces the validity of customers’ decisions to purchase from your business.
9. Be accessible. Be present at your place of business, your customers’ place of business, or public venues as well as available by phone, e-mail, or social media. Being accessible is different than being available 24/7.
10. Connect with customers on a personal level without getting too personal. Engage in conversations that will enable you to understand customers’ timelines, budget constraints, motivations, fears, and priorities. These insights can translate into better recommendations and more precise communications. Share your experiences so that customers can be aware of the rationale for your approach to serving them.
11. Connect outside of the workplace. You don’t have to attend every community event or industry trade show. But you can be involved with select activities that are meaningful to you, your business, and your customers. As a result, your business can stay top of mind among customers.
12. Serve your customers’ friends and business partners. By expertly handling referrals and consistently delivering results, you’ll naturally deepen relationships with customers.
Keep Doing the Basics
The basics can be boring but, generally, execution is simple and cheap. No matter how great the marketing message, first-time customers will not come back if the basics are ignored.
13. Make sure doing business with your business is easy. Respond to questions, take orders, and fill orders according to specifications.
14. Maintain the capacity to serve customers. Make sure your capacity fits the lead times and requirements of your customers so that you can deliver when promised, as promised. In some cases, you may need to expand facilities, hire more staff, get more equipment, or outsource production; or decide which customers you want to keep if the cost of keeping up with demand outweighs lifetime value of customers.
15. Keep customers informed. Update customers on special offers, product improvements, and policy changes. Reach out to regulars just as, or more, often than you do to prospects.
16. Assure quality of merchandise and services. Quality should be embedded in all of your processes (consultations with customers, solution design, testing, etc.). At the very least, check quality before you ship product or deliver services. Poor quality will obviously lead to returns and claims but, more insidiously, will result in losing customers forever.
Be attuned to what your customers, competitors, and industry thought-leaders are saying and doing in order to define the specifics of the simple ways that your business will keep customers. Prioritize and execute: Train your staff to interact effectively with customers, encourage your team to keep up with trends, connect or send others to connect, and delegate the basics.