Customer loyalty is one of the most important assets any business can hope to have. Repeat custom is by far the most profitable kind; conversions from existing customers require a much lower marketing spend than those from new clients. As a result, you should work as hard as possible to keep hold of your customers far beyond their first sale.
Customer retention can be difficult and is a continuous task. Your tactics will depend, to a great extent, on the nature of your business and your knowledge of your customers. In some businesses, for example, customers might not be expected to make a purchase more than once every couple of years; it may therefore be counter-productive to attempt to pressure them into returning more frequently.
However, there are a few tips and techniques that you can use to help make sure that, regardless of your customer lifecycle, your firm is foremost in your clients’ minds when they come to need the products or services you provide again.
Concentrate on customer service
You can never hope to develop loyalty unless the experience you are providing your customers is a good one to begin with. Customer service is at the heart of any successful company.
Do not presume that customers will return because of the strength of your product alone. Instead, think about ways in which you can make the client or customer’s experience more enjoyable, and ensure that they leave with a good impression of your organisation.
Build up rapport
Customers are significantly more likely to return to your business if they feel they have developed a personal connection with you or your staff. If they feel that they are personally valued, and that they are liked, they will keep coming back.
Of course, the first step here is to learn your customer’s name. If you have face-to-face contact, try to engage them in non-invasive conversation about their personal life; this will provide you with a talking point for future encounters.
Train train train
If you employ staff who are likely to come into contact with your customers, make sure that they are trained to recognise particularly important individuals. Where possible, ensure that they know the names of your key customers and can easily recognise them. This will help the customer feel valued throughout the organisation.
Flexibility is key
As your relationship with the customer begins to develop, they may begin to ask for services that you do not generally offer. Wherever it is feasible, you should be prepared to try and fulfil these requests. Be prepared to go ‘off menu’ for valued clients; they have invested their trust and spent their money in your organisation, and they will expect some flexibility on your part in return.
Accept margin cuts
If you are to offer increased flexibility, you must also be willing to accept lower profit margins from return customers. Some customers will expect trade prices or some sort of discount in return for their loyalty.
Of course, there are limits to this rule. You must be able to reach a balance between encouraging repeat custom and maintaining your profits.
If you have a large customer base, you may wish to consider operating a formal incentives scheme. This need not be complex. For example, if you run a coffee shop you might place loyalty cards by the till, and stamp the card each time a customer makes a purchase. Ten stamps might entitle them to a coffee on the house. Alternatively, if you run a more general retail business, you might choose to offer rewards for purchases over a certain value.
Learn when to say goodbye
Finally, as a business manager it is vital that you understand when it is no longer in your interests to hold onto a customer. This might sound counter-intuitive, but there is often little point in bending over backwards to maintain a relationship with a customer that contributes little to your business.
If you often find yourself on the receiving end of unreasonable demands from a customer or, as is often the case, find that you are doing work either at or below cost, you should seriously consider whether or that that is a relationship that you wish to continue. Remember that every hour you spend dealing with a customer like this is an hour that you could otherwise be spending generating profit.
Building customer loyalty should be an important element of any firm’s business plan. It is vital that you cultivate lasting relationships with your customers and clients if you are to remain as profitable as possible. Above all, remember that your customers are individuals – treat them as such and they will keep coming back.