A wise man once said to me, “There are basically two ways to generate more revenue for your business: Find more customers, or keep the customers you have and get them to buy more.”
Although there are some products or services that your customers may only use once, most small business owners depend on their customers doing business with them more than once. Building, fostering and creating an environment where customers feel loyal to you — and your business — is a wise investment in the future of your company.
Most small business owners understand that loyal customers are the lifeblood of their businesses, which is why there are so many loyalty programs like the punch cards restaurants use to reward their frequent customers. The same is true of online SaaS companies, too, and they could learn a thing or two from some of the tactics used by brick-and-mortar businesses. Of course, a punch card isn’t the only (or even the best) way to build customer loyalty. Here are four surprisingly simple tactics you can try that will create a positive impact for your company.
Make it personal
People like doing business with other people. Unless your business is a company like Apple, Tesla or Nike that has an incredible brand, people are less interested in your company than they are the people that work within it. In other words, you and your employees need to focus on building relationships with your customers beyond the transaction itself.
For example, my wife and I regularly frequent a small, locally-owned restaurant that was recommended to us by a friend. Our first dining experience there was great. The staff is fairly small and the first two or three times we went there for dinner, we wound up with the same server. She was friendly and went out of her way to give us excellent service. Over time, she would greet us by name, knew what we liked, and would get things started as soon as we walked through the door.
We wound up asking for her during our weekly visit and have been going there for the last five or six years. For us, she is that restaurant. She made it personal for us. The food is good and the price is right, but one of the biggest reasons we keep going back is her.
This is obvious for customer-driven companies and business owners who are passionate about what they do. But instilling that same passion into your employees doesn’t just automatically happen — it requires deliberate effort.
Be unpredictable in delighting customers
Don’t rely on punch cards. Customers respond better to more genuine-feeling interactions, and computers make it fairly simple to keep track of how often your regular customers visit and don’t require them to carry a bunch of cards in their wallet.
A few years ago, after a haircut at my regular salon, the stylist said, “Thanks Ty, this one’s on us. We appreciate your business.” I left feeling like a million bucks. They knew me and valued my business!
Several months later, a different stylist said, “It looks like this is your 10th haircut, this one’s free.” It didn’t pack the same punch. It left me feeling flat, like I was just a number. Although there was nothing really wrong with the transactional nature of it, I was still turned off. Because I could see what they were doing and the spontaneous nature of the first experience was so refreshing, the second fell flat for me.
The first experience felt spontaneous, like they were paying attention and truly appreciated my business. The surprise of a free haircut, and the associated delight I felt that they really were paying attention, made me a loyal customer.
Whenever I’m in New York, I typically stay at the same hotel. When I check in, the person at the front desk is usually someone I’ve become acquainted with over the years. But even if it isn’t, they know my name, and they acknowledge that I am a frequent guest. Every other time or two I’m there, there’s a personal note thanking me for regularly staying there and sometimes even a small token of appreciation, like a Barnes & Noble gift card (they know what I do for a living). I don’t stay there because of this — their rates are reasonable and it’s close to the office — nevertheless, it does foster my loyalty as a customer.
Dale Carnegie reminded us, “Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” When you call someone by name, they feel like you know them, that you appreciate their business, and that you acknowledge the personal choice they’ve made. I admit, being recognized by name as a customer feels good.
Remember, you’re building a brand
When I talk about brand, I’m talking in a different sense than what you might have heard before.
Your brand isn’t just about your colors, your logo, or what you say about your company.
It’s about your values and how those values influence your interactions with your customers. The above three loyalty-building suggestions are important, but if your customers don’t feel like you really care about them, want to solve their problems, and are committed to providing the best products or service you can, these strategies will be seen as manipulative techniques and won’t help you earn their loyalty.
It’s much like this beautiful little diner my friends and I often pass when riding our motorcycles in the hills that surround where I live. It looks like the kind of place you’d have stopped at 70 or 80 years ago. I want this place to be great. The promise of a good meal in a classic diner often beckons me inside, but the food is always mediocre at best and the service is terrible. I always leave disappointed. They’re not building a brand that will sustain this business for the long haul. In fact, they’ve been through three unsuccessful owners since I discovered the place several years ago.
In other words, the food needs to be delicious, the haircut needs to look good, and the hotel room needs to be clean and comfortable first. You need to deliver on your brand promise — otherwise, your customers will find out that promise doesn’t mean anything. Nobody likes to feel duped.
There are other things you can do to increase your investment in customer loyalty, and there are companies that will help you do it. But start with these four simple yet powerful tactics to grow your business and customer base; you may be surprised at how much you can accomplish.