Bringing new customers into your business can be crucial—but it can also cost money and time to find them. And you’ve got competition out there working hard to pull your existing customers over to the dark side. So how can you help keep new and existing customers happy and coming back?
The answer may be to inspire customer loyalty. Loyal customers don’t change brands just because the other guy’s stuff is on sale. Loyal customers don’t abandon you just because one of your employees made a mistake. Loyal customers are your most valuable commodity, and they’re worth building, nurturing and rewarding. Consider taking the time to develop a plan to help keep customers dedicated to your business. These five strategies may help.
1. Decide the customer behavior you want to encourage.
You may have a hard time designing a plan or customer loyalty program if you haven’t decided on a desired outcome. Whether you’re targeting a higher spend per customer or you’re working to increase repeat visits to your website or storefront, you’re likely to see better results if you know what your goal is. If you own an ice cream shop, for example, you’re probably not going to see a great response if you offer a discount on purchases over $100. But a traditional punch card or smartphone app like Belly that rewards multiple visits may bring customers in more frequently and help incrementally increase sales. Figure out what works for your business model and it may help improve your bottom line.
2. Offer loyal buyers something exclusive.
This strategy may work especially well for retailers that handle hard-to-get items that are in high demand. Offering those cherries to your best customers may help produce fans for life.
[pullquote alignment="center"]Loyalty is about making customers feel like they're part of the family, like they’re invested in your success.[/pullquote]
I spoke to the manager of a local beer shop near my house, and she explained their loyalty program. Customers buy an annual membership in exchange for a custom pint glass, discounts on craft beer and exclusive access to limited-production beers. She said they sell out of single bottles of beer that cost $20 or more nearly every week. And their customers are thrilled. Try thinking of an exclusive offering you can reward your most loyal customers with.
3. Make friends with your customers.
While your business may deliver an excellent product (the best-tasting ice cream cone or the most thorough housecleaning) if you treat your customers like they’re just a number, you’re unlikely to inspire loyalty.
Give your customers a chance to get to know you and your staff, and you may be surprised at how loyal they become. Use your small-business status as a badge of honor by taking the time to learn your customers’ names, and their likes and dislikes. When customers say they’re going to get ice cream at “Mike’s” rather than at a big frozen yogurt chain, they’re making a choice to patronize you rather than a large corporation.
4. Make ‘em laugh.
Yes, business is serious. Yes, you have to strive to deliver great quality at a fair price. But when you can get your customers to enjoy themselves, it can be a game changer—especially on social media. Whether you tweet a daily joke or you post a silly picture on Instagram, if you can find ways to get customers to smile at (and share!) your posts, you’re likely taking steps toward becoming part of their lifestyle.
Can you brainstorm with your staff to create a funny shirt or sticker that also promotes your brand? Can you find ways to interact with customers that may not encourage direct sales, but rather are focused on enhancing their lives? Humor can help strengthen connections among people, and finding a way to incorporate levity into your business can help make customers look forward to doing business with you.
5. Be active in your community.
While giving back to every charity in your area may be unrealistic, it can be advantageous to select a few visible ways to reach out and do some good. Whether you collect donations for children's holiday presents or sponsor animals at a local shelter, finding ways to help your customers identify with your company may pay off in loyalty.
Whatever strategies you use to engage with customers, remember that loyalty is about much more than a punch card or an interactive app, though those can be great tools. Loyalty is about making customers feel like they're part of the family, like they’re invested in your success. If your customers want to see you succeed, they’ll often help to make sure it happens.
Photo: Christopher Lane