It’s Valentine’s week, which means a small business owner’s fancy should be turning to thoughts of love -- even if your business doesn’t sell candy, greeting cards or flowers. Why? Nowadays, business relationships are more important than ever. Thanks to the Internet and social media, customers can instantly tell the world what kind of relationship they have with your company. In seconds, they can also discover what kinds of relationships other people have with your business and with your competition. Remember, if customers stop “feeling the love” for you, there’s another company out there waiting to win their hearts (and wallets).
With that in mind, here are six ideas for how your small business can share the love with your customers all year long.
1. Offer discounts. During the recession, discounts became an accepted and expected way of doing business. While you may be hoping you can cut down on discounting as the economy picks up, offering a price break is still a great way of showing customers some love -- so don’t give up on discounts altogether. However, smart business owners use discounts wisely -- focusing not on enticing new customers who may or may not become repeat buyers, but on rewarding longtime customers for their loyalty. Make discounts work for you by giving a customer who buys a certain amount of merchandise a discount on their next purchase -- but make it time-sensitive so they’re encouraged to shop again soon (say, within the next two weeks). Or offer a discount that kicks in when a certain number of items are bought (buy three, get one free). You can also have percentage discounts that rise as more money is spent, such as 10 percent off a small order, 15 percent off a larger order, and 25 percent off a bigger one. Get the idea?
2. Offer gifts. Gifts can be even more effective than discounts at wow-ing your loyal customers. While some customers have grown accustomed to discounts, everyone gets excited about the idea of a “free gift”, no matter what it is. Gifts can also be more cost-effective for your business than discounts, since you aren’t cutting into your margins. Premiums and giveaways can be found at all price points. Also consider giving away products that aren’t selling well; adding a small, free service onto a bigger package of services; or offering a free consultation with a purchase at a certain level.
3. Send thank yous. Former presidents George Bush and Ronald Reagan were both well known for sending handwritten thank you notes, but you don’t have to be in the Oval Office to get results from this tactic. Today, getting any kind of personal missive in the mail is so rare, it’s bound to be appreciated and remembered by your customer. Of course, if you think your customer would prefer a different type of thank you, go right ahead. An e-card, quick e-mail or a phone call are all great ways to say thank you for your business. What matters is that you say it.
4. Reward referrals. Customers typically feel honored when you ask them to refer a friend or colleague who might need your company’s products or services. Up the ante (and the warm and fuzzy feelings) by rewarding customers for those referrals. This can be a discount on the next purchase, a free month’s worth of services, or even a cash bonus. Rewarding customers for referrasl keeps the circle of love going… and gets you more referrals.
5. Ask their opinions. When someone cares what we think, how does that make us feel? Important, valued… dare I say, loved? Asking customers for their opinions is a smart way to continually improve your business -- while also making them feel that you care. Use e-mail or online survey tools to see what your customers think about your marketing campaign, your customer service, your new products and more -- and then, act on what they advise.
6. Get personal. Nothing says love better than the personal touch -- and as a small business owner, you’re in the best possible position to provide it. Get to know your customers personally; remember what they like (and don’t like); greet them by name and respond to their problems and questions quickly. You don’t have to own a small-town grocery store to get personal; even a business website can create a personal touch. The key is to convey a sense of who you are, what your business’s mission is, and what you’re all about. Of course, being responsive, friendly and flexible (online and off) goes a long way, too. What’s not to love about that?
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