Signing up a new client is exciting, but why go through all that work to attract new business, only to have to start all over again?
Peter Shankman, author of Nice Companies Finish First, says building customer loyalty—which results in repeat business and referrals to others—isn’t as difficult a process as you’d think. “As consumers, we expect to be treated like crap on a regular basis," he says. "If you can treat your customers one level above crap, it’s huge.”
So how can you wow customers and keep them coming back for more? Here are six ideas:
1. Give them something for free. Everyone loves a freebie, not only for its monetary value but because it makes them feel special. Offer free swag as a bonus or welcome gift to a new client, and they'll leave with a smile, assures Shankman. “You want to be able to give people the ability to be amazed and tell the world what you’ve done,” he says. “When a company gives me a free whatever, it’s easy for me to go and tell people.”
2. Want repeat business? Simply ask for it. That's what Jason Auerbach, divisional manager of First Choice Loan Services in Morganville, New Jersey, does. “It seems very simple and very obvious, but most people don’t do it," Auerbach says. "When I’m on the phone with a real estate agent talking about a client, I generally finish the conversation with, ‘If I do a good job, would you please send me more business?’ ”
Because Auerbach gets many of his clients via referrals from real estate agents, asking these third parties to keep him in mind is a big key of his success. As for non-referral clients, especially in an industry like home loans, it’s essential to remind people that you’re still around in case they want to refinance in a year or two, or pursue another loan down the line.
3. Listen carefully, and follow up. "Your clients will tell you everything you need to know; all you have to do is listen to them," Shankman says. If you show genuine interest in both their business needs as well as what they enjoy on a personal level, it can allow for more meaningful follow up. You might call to check in to see if they’re happy with your product or service, or you can forward along an article that might be of interest to them.
“It’s being nice for the sake of being nice,” Shankman says, “but that will always give you ‘top of mind presence.’ ” In other words, when they’re ready to make their next purchase, they’ll automatically think of the great customer relationship they already have with you.
4. Know how to stay in touch. Following up comes down to knowing where your audience is and, if you don't, simply asking what the best way is to get in touch with them. Inquire how they prefer to get their information and be contacted, whether it’s on Facebook, or via text, Twitter or a phone call. “Spending all your time being places where your audience isn’t makes no sense,” Shankman warns.
5. Set reasonable expectations. “Under-promise and over-deliver,” Auerbach suggests. Many small businesses make the mistake of promising the moon just to land a sale but then wind up disappointing the customer. That just leads to frustration and has the potential to generate bad publicity for your business. Be honest when it comes to cost, delivery time or the expected project completion date, and you’ll look like a hero when you come in under budget and before deadline.
6. Say thank you. Auerbach says he does something that's unique in his business: “I write hand-written thank you notes.” Doing so is a lost art in these digital days, which is why the gesture shows you took the time to show your appreciation.
Earning repeat business isn't rocket science. It really comes down to treating your customers like people, not transactions.
Dawn Papandrea is a freelance writer, blogger and editor specializing in personal finance, parenting, women's lifestyle, careers, higher education and more.
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