Earning And Keeping Customer Loyalty

Almost nothing matters more than earning and keeping customer loyalty. Customers can be fickle. They don't have to keep coming back, and in today's economy, they're likely to be approached by more than one competing business at a time. One expert estimates that businesses lose as much as 20 percent of their customers every year. There's no single surefire way to guarantee loyalty, but here are some tips to help you run the sort of business people will want to come back to.

1. Offer one stop service. Does your customer have to go somewhere else before or after dealing with you? If you sell flowers, give customers a chance to buy the vase to put them in. If you sell posters, offer to frame them as well. Whatever it is you do, think of ways you can make it a package deal. 

2. Know the customer's needs. Is the picnic table you're selling to be used in a covered patio or sun room or is it to be outdoors, exposed to the elements? Is the vacuum cleaner to be used in rooms with pet hairs or just with ordinary dust. These things make a difference. Find out how your customer plans to use what you're offering and make suggestions that will help them make the best choice for their needs. This leaves the customer feeling important. Plus it leaves the impression that you know your business and are trying to do your best. 

3. Offer choices. Can you offer your product in different colors, materials, etc.? If you sell handmade furniture, there may be woods you prefer to work with, but you'll build a larger customer base if you can work with different types of woods and finishes. Even flea market booths and garage sales do better when they offer more items to choose from. Look into what your suppliers are already offering. Don't spread yourself too thin but consider ways to expand your inventory with minimal effort.

4. Be the business they can depend on. If you have a choice between getting a good night's sleep and filling an important order for a customer, give the customer priority. Your customer may be leaving on a trip or planning a wedding or going to a trade show. Find out when the customer needs something for a particular day and be sure to have it on time or sooner. If you're slow to deliver, you make somebody else look bad and nothing destroys loyalty faster. Make your customers look good and you'll look good, too. Along with this, if you aren't sure you can finish the job or deliver the goods when needed, make that very clear at the onset. If your machines are giving you trouble and likely to break down, say so, and get busy getting them fixed. Or take the order to a competitor whose machines are in good shape.

5. Make good on your mistakes. Mistakes can kill a business when they occur too often or when you don't handle them correctly. It's important to be able to admit when something goes wrong. Don't try to find someone else to blame and don't accuse the customer. Your focus should be on rectifying the mistake. Fix the product or replace it, do the job over, do what needs to be done. Standing behind your work goes a long way toward building customer loyalty.

6. Anticipate problems. Know your business well enough to be aware of what could go wrong and take steps ahead of time to prevent problems. If you have valuable items belonging to your customer in the shop for repair, be sure to carry enough insurance to cover them. If your equipment is old and could break down in the middle of a job, find out in advance where to rent or buy another machine in a hurry. Be prepared for events that are likely and could cause problems. Also be prepared for events that are unlikely but could cause big problems.

7. Honesty is the best policy. Never even allow the illusion that you're overcharging someone. Explain how long it took to do the job. Itemize the expenses involved. If there's a disagreement and there's a ghost of a chance that the customer is right, let the customer be right. You may lose a few dollars here and there but it's better to be seen as a business person who can be trusted. 

8. Make it a pleasure to do business with you. The repair shop with an air conditioner and comfortable chairs will probably have more return business than one with sweltering temperatures and no place to sit. Plants and pictures make people feel welcome, too. If your customers deal with you on the phone, have voice mail or answering system that doesn't keep them on hold listening to music or commercial messages.

9.  Time is in your favor. If your business is new, customer loyalty is something in the future. It builds over time as customers have repeated experiences dealing with you. People lose track of time; start keeping track and let    them know when they've been a valued customer for five years or ten.