Customer service is one of the most important ways a small business can distinguish itself from competitors. You have the unique opportunity to connect directly with your customers, furnish the products or services that meet their needs, help them with problems, and follow up after the sale. This generates more than just sales; it also creates relationships that will not only keep those customers coming back, but also lead to referrals and new business.
As a small business owner, you want your firm to be a “go-to” resource for your customers, the place they’ll turn to whenever they need a certain product or service, regardless of other options that may be available.
To achieve that distinction, you have to develop loyalty among your customers. At first glance, that might seem easy to do; give them what they want, and they’ll come back, right?
Not necessarily. Customers have always wanted to feel valued, and know that their specific needs will receive special attention. But building customer loyalty has become more challenging with the convergence of trends such as easy access to data about competing companies, more price- or location-driven purchasing decisions due to economic factors, and a sense of greater expectations of value from that purchase.
Fortunately, there are many tactics to foster customer loyalty that can be easily integrated into your day-to-day operations. A simple “thank-you for your business” will go a long way, but so too will a personalized thank-you note, especially in the digital age. Don’t cut and paste sentiments or use a form letter; think about what those customers have needed, and let them know you appreciate their business.
Creating value will help boost loyalty. Ask customers if there is anything else you could be doing for them. Then, after they tell you, do it. If you blog or send an e-newsletter, include some stories or links to topics they may find interesting, or relate to your product or service. You may also want to consider incentives such as discounts or freebies for frequent customers.
Review each customer “touch point”—your phones, your website, your store—to determine the kind of reception customers get, and how helpful each one is from the customer’s point of view. And make sure your employees feel valued. When they feel good about working for you, they’ll give customers an even better experience.
Even if your best efforts fall short and a customer goes elsewhere, you can still gain from the experience. Ask them why they switched. If there’s something you can change or improve on, do so. You may not regain that customer, but you can use that input to better serve the ones you have, and hope to attract in the future.
To learn more about generating customer loyalty for your small business attend our workshop on Customer Service. SCORE is a nonprofit organization which provides free, confidential business mentoring and training workshops to small business owners.