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How to build customer loyalty

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SmallBusiness.com How-tos are step-by-step instructions for specific small business tasks. They are created and edited by readers like you. You can help edit this How-to or you can create your own. Find more How-tos at the SmallBusiness.com How-to Hub.

Introduction

The secret is not just making clients and customers happy, but keeping them coming back for more. Some small business owners even operate by the 80/20 rule, which says that successful companies get 80 percent of their business from 20 percent of their customers. Those small business owners know that loyal customers will not only buy more from them overall, they will also choose them over competitors every time.

Tips for building loyalty

  1. Be true to yourself. You must have a good sense of what your business is about and how you fit into your market or industry before you can articulate that to others. Your selling point should reflect your passion. If you're a restaurant owner interested in gourmet food, for instance, concentrate more on providing superior quality than speedy service or discount dinners.
  2. Know your niche. Understand why you are successful today, what makes you different, and what brings repeat customers back over and over again. Is it exceptional quality, consummate convenience or great bargains? Even if you try to provide a little bit of all of that, you can't be the best at everything. Focus on the thing that makes you successful -- and make it better all the time.
  3. Survey customers. Identify who your repeat customers are and discover what attributes they have in common by asking them what they expect of you. This will point you to customers whose values match yours and show you what kind of customers you need to attract to grow your business.
  4. Deliver what you promise. Guarantee your products and services. Respect time constraints and budgets. After the sale, stay connected by inquiring about the success of the delivery and/or implementation. If something goes wrong, react quickly and compensate customers for any inconvenience. Solve problems before they are brought to your attention. Remember, most customers aren't likely to complain to you -- they'll just complain to everyone they know.
  5. Get personal. Get to know your customers -- not just their names, but also something about them. Pay attention to details that they share, as well as the nonverbal cues they give you. Listen as they express their needs and look for ways to fulfill their wishes or solve their problems. Always thank them for their business. You can show repeat customers your appreciation through thank-you notes, reminder cards or newsletters.
  6. Hire like-minded staff. The interaction between customers and clients and your employees sets the stage for repeat business, which is why it is important to hire for attitude as well as skills. Give employees the authority to make decisions in the best interests of customers; otherwise if a customer gets shifted around when a problem arises, he or she might just get frustrated and leave. Make sure to include employees in your strategy and decision-making. If they feel like they have a stake in the business, they pass that loyalty onto customers.
  7. Exceed expectations. Make things as easy as possible for customers so their experience with you will be memorable and pleasant. Provide them with easy access to information they might need, such as delivery schedules, tracking of shipments, etc. When working with clients, immerse yourself in high-priority issues they face and look for solutions to their front-burner problems. Be willing to go the extra mile to meet needs and train your staff to do the same. Even if customers ask you for something beyond what you can do, never make them feel like their request is ridiculous.

Summary

No matter how many new customers you hope to draw to your business, never take the ones you already have for granted. Always give them a reason to keep coming back.