Building customer loyalty used to be seen as a means to an end. Slowly, businesses are realizing the true worth of loyal customers and the value they add towards business growth.
Running a business isn’t easy, no matter how big or small it may be. As a business owner, there could be times when you feel like dropping everything and running into the woods to become the next Henry Thoreau! But hang in there and know that it is all part of an entrepreneur’s journey. A journey that begins with a small customer base, which will grow significantly over the course of time. Soon, there could even be customers who are so loyal to your business that you will feel obligated to be in business for their sake! So, how does one go about building customer loyalty?
Let’s start by doing away with the misconception that customer loyalty can be bought. It is the quality of your product/service and the nature of customer care that determine your business’s ability to build brand loyalty. Exceptional customer care doesn’t necessarily translate to rewards programs and freebies alone. Small businesses often do not have the funds to run a full-fledged customer rewards program like retail giants. Moreover, contrary to popular notion, customers remember the extraordinary experiences they had while interacting with brands more than they remember freebies or even the actual product or service that they had purchased! In other words, you can build long-term customer loyalty and create good brand equity by following a handful of rules. Here are a few things you can do as a small business owner:
1. Know that brand-customer touch-points matter: A customer can encounter your brand in numerous ways. They could hear about it from a friend, see an advertisement if you have marketed your brand or even walk into your store to check out what you are selling! All these situations where a customer comes in contact with a brand or a company either directly or indirectly are called brand-customer touch-points. They can be company-created, such as an ad or a news release, or unexpected, such as a word-of-mouth message that can either be positive or negative. While company-created customer touch-points can be controlled and used to your advantage, the unexpected brand-customer touch-points are beyond your control.
2. Perfect your customer’s first impression: If you have a brick and mortar store, ensure that everything is in place before you open your doors to customers. Irrespective of whether they make a purchase or not, talk to them politely and show them a demo of your product or service. This helps to create a feeling of trust and confidence in them, which will go a long away in dictating the possibilities of them becoming a loyal customer in the future.
Even if you are selling your products online, either through a website or through a social media platform, you may get hundreds of enquiries from customers in the form of texts, emails and phone calls. Remember to respond to every enquiry in a polite and positive manner. Address them respectfully and don’t forget to say please and thank you (brings back kindergarten memories, doesn’t it?). If you are going for a friendly tone, remember that a professional-friendly tone and personal-friendly tone are poles apart. Your customers (even if you would like to think of them as your friends) expect a level of professionalism from you that you must uphold.
3. Collect customer information: It is always a good idea to get a customer’s phone number or email ID in order to keep them updated about offers, sales, or even a personal discount. Such an act would make them feel special, and in turn, feel good about your brand. However, remember not to force anybody to leave their contact information, especially if they are visibly hesitant. Some customers prefer to stay loyal to a brand without giving out their personal information and you should respect their wishes.
4. Encourage customers to leave feedback: It is always a good idea to allow customers to leave a feedback, either on your website or on the social media business handle. Studies show that 72% of customers take some sort of action after reading a positive review. But let us warn you, it’s never a good idea to turn off your reviews even if you are afraid of receiving unfavorable ones. Some social media platforms allow you to turn off the review feature. Turning off the reviews or hiding them from other customers can do more damage to your business than a bad review. It sends the message that as a business you are closed off to customer feedback, which is never a good sign if you want to win people’s trust.
In fact, a bad review is an opportunity for your small business to rise to the occasion and address the issue at hand. When this is done publicly, other customers realize that your business is legit, accountable and that they, as customers, can always reach out to you in the event of a hitch.
5. Add a personal touch: When businesses start out, it isn’t very difficult to keep track of all your customers and establish a one-on-one connection with them. As your customer base grows, you will have to adopt new strategies to continue making your customers feel valued. Invest in good omni-channel marketing techniques that will allow your brand to interact with your customers through multiple channels, devices, and platforms. Try to personalize the messages directed towards each customer so that they feel that they have a special connection with your brand that they don’t share with other brands.
6. Provide excellent customer support: Satisfying your customers’ needs should be the top priority of any business. Henry Ford once said, “Business must be run at a profit, else it will die. But when anyone tries to run a business solely for profit, then the business must die as well, for it no longer has a reason for existence.” This ideology must be at the heart of every ethical business owner if they want their business to succeed.
If your customer faces an issue with your product or service, address the issue at the earliest. Nobody likes to be kept waiting, especially when it is for something they have already paid money for. Businesses should aim at making this process as seamless and efficient as possible so that the customer neither notices the hiccup nor develops negative feelings towards the brand. Train your customer support personnel to be courteous and to make your customer’s interactions with your brand as smooth as possible.
There is no quick fix to building customer loyalty. Neither is it permanent. Once you have achieved building some amount of brand loyalty, you must maintain the good work you are doing in order to acquire more loyal customers. Similarly, if the customers feel that the quality of your service is going down, they may not even think twice about switching to your competitor. Offering quality service and maintaining that standard are the two ways to grow a loyal following for your business.