By Kylie Jane Wakefield
These days, creating brand loyalists can be challenging. Even with the most unique marketing ideas, customers often are just looking for the best deals. Businesses need to present them with reasons they should keep returning, whether it's in the form of reward programs, outstanding customer service or a thoughtful interaction with a salesperson. Here are some ways in which small businesses can foster customer loyalty and ensure that new customers come back to make repeat purchases.
1. Offer customer rewards
We've all seen the punch cards that offer a free coffee—or sandwich, or product—after you buy a certain number. In any customer's wallet, there is sure to be at least one loyalty card for a local grocery store, restaurant, coffee shop or small business. These exist for a reason: They make customers want to keep coming back and earn their rewards. Even if discounts are minimal, they still want to feel like they are saving or are part of an exclusive club. According to a 2010 Inc. article, companies are spending over $2 billion each year on loyalty programs, and the average household in America belongs to 14 different programs. Inc. recommends starting a program if the business is a retail store, travel company or restaurant. It encourages foot traffic and gives customers the incentive to shop.
2. Award customers for referrals
Advertisements don't always work. People are going to rely on word of mouth, so let the customers do the advertising for you. One way to achieve this is through a referral program. According to Customers That Stick, such a program provides immediate targeting and social proof that a business is top-notch. A study from the American Marketing Association's Journal of Marketing found that referred customers tend to be more loyal in the long run—and they spend more, too. To encourage customers to make referrals, offer a discount or some kind of reward. It will promote the chance for a referral and strengthen loyalty simultaneously.
3. Show your gratitude on social media
Some brands showcase customers' birthdays on their Facebook pages. Others thank customers with tweets. Demonstrating gratitude to customers on social media makes them feel special and, in turn, will make them more inclined to stay true to your business.
Julie Neidlinger of Today Made writes, "Without letting your fans know you’re thankful for their participation and for even being an audience, it’s easy for you to be forgotten without another thought." Don't ignore the customers: Always be grateful and show appreciation. They will pay you back with loyalty.
4. Keep communicating
Regular communication keeps a business fresh in a customer's mind. If you're not checking in, sending out reminders and email newsletters, and keeping in touch via social media, you should start doing so. There is a fine line, however, between communicating just enough and too much. Send follow-up and thank you emails after a business interaction. Email recommendations for similar products (look at Amazon's related items section for an example). Ask them to take a survey about their experience and use the feedback to improve business. Offer a chance to win a prize for taking the survey. The list is endless. Communication will help foster not only loyalty, but also better customer service.
5. Train outstanding employees
Great customer service will always make a business stand out. Encourage employees to learn customers' names and figure out their needs—and remember that nobody likes a pushy salesperson. Susan Ward from Small Business: Canada says that businesses should always have someone answer the phone and actually talk to people. Businesses need to be reliable and deliver on promises, as well. Owners and employees have to deal with complaints in the proper way, because, of course, the customer is always right. Train your employees not to let pride get in the way of customer satisfaction. The cherry on top, Ward says, is to offer a coupon for a future discount, a genuine smile, or something extra because "people love to get more than they thought they were getting." If customers choose to spend their money at your business, show your appreciation by going the extra mile.
6. Become an expert
In order for a small business to be successful, it has to stand out from the pack. Kelly Services suggests picking a niche and becoming an expert on it for the customers. According to the site, "Beyond merely filling a 'vacuum,' become an expert resource for your customers. If you have not used this strategy in the past, you will be amazed at the customer loyalty and strong relationships your company can build by offering customers content that informs and entertains." If customers know they can trust your opinion, they will keep coming back.