Owning a business entails a myriad of obstacles to navigate. Whether it’s keeping up with inflation, building up your brand or making sure the finances are on track – it can be a lot! However, among all these important aspects, there’s one magical ingredient that really makes a difference – customer loyalty. It’s like the secret sauce that fuels your business’s growth and success.
Building up and keeping a loyal following is no walk in the park. So, let’s dive into some proven methods you can use to make sure those familiar faces keep coming back for more.
Deliver amazing customer service
It seems like an obvious thing to say, but the foundations of creating customer loyalty start with customer service and making it the best it can be. Half measures won’t do here, so set the standard high and train your people to deliver the best service they can. Set out some rules about problem solving so your staff have autonomy to nip any problems in the bud early before they escalate into bigger issues, and create an ethos that has excellent customer care at it’s core.
Go above and beyond expectations
Customers are loyal to businesses that give them extra value, so go above the industry standard and way above what your competitor is doing. For example offer free delivery or have a lower minimum order. If your competitor delivers goods to their customers front door, you could deliver to the threshold then offer to go inside and unpack the goods for them. It’s a simple comparison, but it’s true that going the extra step to please your customer will pay you back with repeat business and positive recommendations.
If you are a very small business it’s worth giving your time for free on occasion. If a customer calls a plumber to fix a dripping tap, and they only get charged for the price of a new washer, they will be far more likely to call that plumber in the future, and recommend them to friends and family. Giving your time may feel like you are selling your services too cheaply, but this is good groundwork for building relationships with customers.
Think about your own experiences with trades folk and businesses like your own. What would make you notice them and use them again? Essentially people respond when they feel cared about, so going beyond what is expected of you will create strong bonds.
The big supermarkets have loyalty schemes down to a fine art and they definitely work. It’s rare to find someone who doesn’t have a favourite supermarket. As humans we naturally return to a place of comfort and our buying behaviour is no different. The coffee shops have cottoned on to loyalty schemes too and instead of supermarket points they will often give a free coffee after a set amount of purchases.
The basic point of these schemes is to encourage repeat purchases, but the route to this end could come from any number of ideas. An alternative way to offer value is via a membership scheme. This is best done on a website where you collect customer email information in exchange for a discount voucher. Usually this is done with a pop up box when someone looks at your website. The idea being that an email has ongoing value to you. Once you have a list of customer emails you now have an audience for a newsletter!
You should definitely call it a newsletter, but this doesn’t mean you are sending them ‘news’. You are going to be sending them discounts and voucher codes that they can use because they are on your ‘exclusive’ membership list. The offers could be simple:
“10% discount off your next order”
Or you could put some conditions on the offers; for example:
“Save £10 when you spend over £50”
“free delivery when you spend over £40” (a common supermarket offer)
The customer perception is that they are getting great value from you but in reality the cost to you is minimal because the loyalty that you gain is well worth it.
Sending regular newsletters can be a great way to give extra value too. Why not send customers a link to something of value that is industry related, for example a furniture shop could include a link to a video about interior design, or a wool shop could send links to free knitting patterns and images on Pinterest and Ravelry. It doesn’t have to be a close link to your business, just something that’s industry adjacent and that your customer will not have found on their own. What you are doing is building rapport and providing extra value.
If you know your customers birthday (which could be gathered as an option when they provide their email address), send them an e-card with a discount voucher or a free gift. Imagine how special this will make them feel. If you have ever found a Google doodle wishing you happy birthday, you’ll know the thrill this brings, and the effort is very low here. There is no discount or saving from Google, so imagine the joy if you send a ‘£5 off your next order’ voucher!
Be clear on your company’s ethics and what you stand for. As business folk we get very focussed on financial gain and success, but your customer is an emotional being and will make informed decisions based on the values that you project. If you can harness the current trend towards eco-friendliness this will win you lots of loyalty points. If you recycle or buy recycled materials within any part of your business this is worth talking about. If you can go the extra step of getting your customers involved with recycling this is even better. Encouraging them to return their packaging to you for recycling will make you stand out.
Your values don’t have to save the planet though, just providing excellent service can be what your brand is about. If you know that your service goes way beyond what is expected within your industry this is of enormous value too and you should advertise your business as outstanding in this area.
Ask yourself what you do best and shout it from the rooftops – or on social media!
Respond to feedback
Make it your policy to respond to all the feedback you receive. Even if you just ‘like’ a comment on your social media, it will be appreciated by the contributor. Getting good reviews is a great way to show what a good job you do, so display the positive ones on your website that reflect your values and emphasise your brand message.
If you do happen to get a bad review or a complaint you should always deal with these promptly and professionally. Don’t take criticism to heart, instead use it as a way to show improvement and growth.
Never respond to a complaint when you are angry. Compose your response then sleep on it, you’ll be much calmer when you re-read it after a night of contemplation and you can edit it accordingly. The goal here is to show that you are listening and willing to change for the better. Customers will appreciate being heard, and if you can solve their problems quickly they will feel understood and remain loyal.
Build a community
The majority of businesses maintain an active presence on social media, and Facebook stands out by offering a wonderful feature for forming interest groups. Make your group the place where you offer discounts, referral rewards, and exclusive offers. Create a sense of exclusivity so that members feel special, but don’t put any barriers to joining. Your goal is to gain members and give them great value, in return they will buy from you and recommend you and your group. If you have a business that relies heavily on repeat business like a barber shop or a gym this is a great way to build a community that is loyal to you.
You don’t have to do it on Facebook of course. The world of technological innovation means that anyone can build an app now! Why not employ a software expert to build an app just for your business that offers useful tips, discounts, a news sharing forum, and something specific to your business. For example a pub could put free quizzes on the app as an addition to their weekly in house quiz, or a gardener could offer seasonal advice and tips on getting rid of slugs! As long as you are offering value and inclusiveness, creating a community within your business will encourage repeat business.
Incorporating one or all these strategies can be a game-changer for your small business’s customer loyalty.
Take a moment to step back and see your business through the eyes of a potential customer. Imagine being in their shoes. Now, think about what could make their experience even better and remember those times when you yourself were wowed by outstanding customer service. Car dealerships surprise customers with a big bunch of flowers when they pick up their new car! It’s not just about saying thanks – those flowers create a lasting impression. The dealerships get it – we don’t buy cars only once, and just like we prefer to visit the same supermarket, we’re drawn to businesses that make us feel special.
From exclusive discounts that show appreciation, fostering a community around your brand to delivering exceptional customer service — these steps create a powerful recipe for lasting success. So, let’s find that something special your business can offer. Something that’ll give your customers that warm, fuzzy feeling that keeps them coming back with a smile.