No matter what you do or make, if you’re in business, someone else who does or makes the same thing is always just a few clicks away.
With so many options available from all over the world, how can any entrepreneur command customer loyalty and keep the same people coming back over and over again?
The good news is that there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. While technology and tactics are constantly changing, the fundamentals of customer cultivation never do.
GOBankingRates asked the experts what entrepreneurs can do to build and maintain a stable of loyal repeat customers who will travel a little farther and even spend a little more money to buy from the business they love and trust.
Get in Your Customers’ Minds by Soliciting Feedback
Every entrepreneur has to have thick skin. Criticism comes with the turf, but even critical feedback is better than no feedback at all.
“You can serve your customers more effectively the more you understand them,” said Max Whiteside of Breaking Muscle. “Therefore, it is important to obtain feedback as frequently as possible.”
If you run a store, you can always just casually ask your customers what they think about their experience, but you shouldn’t rely on a face-to-face critique.
“This isn’t always accurate because some people could be too polite to be entirely honest with you in person,” Whiteside said. “Create polls, surveys, and questionnaires, either online or that you or your workers distribute, for more accurate evaluations.”
Always Communicate — Especially When It’s Uncomfortable
Having to tell a customer that you’re not going to be able to deliver on a promise is a miserable feeling for any business owner. Unfortunately, you’ll inevitably come up short if you’re in business long enough. Even though you’ll want to hide your head in the sand, quick and honest communication is always the right response.
“Even if an order is behind, or you’ve made an error, people are very accommodating if they are kept in the loop,” said Geneva Maresma, a copywriter and 16-year entrepreneur. “Building a loyal customer base starts with basic good business practices of delivering on your promises and customer communication. People will always remember how you serve them, and they refer businesses that are reliable and treat their customers with courtesy.”
Don’t Underestimate the Power of the Old-Fashioned Email List
Modern entrepreneurs can take their pick from countless apps and CRM software programs to communicate with their customers. Many use social media to keep in touch, and that should undoubtedly be part of the strategy — but only part. You should never rely solely on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to keep your customers informed and updated.
“Social media’s algorithms can change in a heartbeat and wipe out a business’s access to their loyal fans,” said Stacey Stewart, founder of Milkology. “In order to build a loyal fan base in business, you need a reliable, consistent way to reach your customers and raving fans.”
According to Stewart, the old-fashioned email list is still the absolute best way to stay engaged.
“Many businesses fail to build, grow, and nurture their list and instead choose to focus on social media,” she said. “This is a mistake. A business owns its email list and can market and keep in touch with those people whenever they want. Say what you want about email, but everyone checks their inbox on the daily. Email marketing has been the most effective way to keep in touch with fans for years, and will continue to be the best for the foreseeable future because it’s an easy and direct way to reach fans.”
Treat Every Customer Like a VIP
No matter what you do or sell or what industry or corner of the economy you serve, if you’re in business, you work in customer service. Even the smallest tokens of appreciation — a free tchotchke on a customer’s birthday, a follow-up thank-you note, a non-sales call to see how their purchase is working out — can go a long way to transforming a first-time buyer into a customer for life.
“Provide outstanding customer service,” said Brian Hong, CEO of Big Easy SEO. “Customers want not only great products but also great service when they need it, and they’ll tell their friends about it if they think your company cares about them.”
Trey Ferro, CEO of Spot Pet Insurance, said the key is to treat your customers as you would want to be treated from the very beginning of the relationship.
“Building a loyal customer base is all about personalizing the customer experience,” Perro said. “In our business, we extend welcome calls and handwritten welcome letters to new customers and send get-well letters and offer bereavement calls during hard times. Abide by the Golden Rule and your exceptional customer service will come back around, significantly improving customer lifetime value.”
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