Here's the story of two companies. I bought a ton of products from both this year. Company 1’s offerings were stellar, but it had a laissez-faire attitude toward the significant hurdles I faced during the procurement process. Company 2’s product line was less impressive, but the folks there jumped through hoops to ensure that I was happy and satisfied with my purchases.
Which company am I more likely to buy from again?
In the small-business world, everything is personal. You can have the most incredible product or service customers have ever seen, but if they don’t like you, it won’t matter. Quality is important, of course, but trust trumps it many times. The way Company 2 treated me makes me want to give its offerings another shot and recommend it to others.
I’m not the first person to say that it’s much easier to sell to an existing customer than to get a new customer. However, even though this idea is almost a cliché, some small-business owners continually expend more effort marketing to strangers than taking care of the people who are right under their noses. Once you’ve gone to all the trouble to seal the initial deal, here's what you should consider doing to try to get repeat business from your customers.
Small businesses are often appealing because some customers like to support the local guy (or gal) who is just like them. As your business grows, you might lose the intimate bond you have with your customers, and that’s dangerous. If you want to make a terrific impression, you might try to connect one-on-one with customers whenever possible—especially if there has been a snafu and the customer is angry. If customers understand you're there for them personally, they may be more likely to give your company the benefit of the doubt.
Give Them Something Special
Reward programs may cost little to design, such as a simple repeat visitor card. And if customers have the choice of getting their morning latte from a coffee chain or the neighborhood joint, and the neighborhood joint is giving them a free scone on their next visit, they may be more likely to go there. Also consider giving existing customers a sneak peek at new products or services, and freebies or deep discounts in exchange for feedback.
Solicit Their Feedback
Once you make your first sale, your job is often just beginning. Consider contacting the customers to see if they were satisfied with their purchase and what you can do to improve their experience next time. Email surveys often get ignored, but a personal note will get their attention. Extra points if you take the feedback, incorporate it into a revamped offering and ask customers if they’d like to try it free of charge. A customer who feels special and valued may want to support you in the future.
Make Them Ambassadors
Ambassador programs are often misunderstood. The goal is not to recruit a handful of people and tell them what to say about your company. Instead, consider a goal like encouraging every customer to talk up your company by actively communicating your mission and giving away branded merchandise (clothing, hats, lunchboxes, etc.) that people can use to spread the word around town. Perhaps engage with people publicly via social media, hold all-inclusive customer appreciation events and organize volunteer stints in the community. It’s only natural that people who feel like insiders may want to extend the relationship.
Read more articles on customer engagement.
This article was originally published on February 10, 2015.