The “mystery” of customer loyalty isn’t really such a mystery. If your business offers unparalleled service, convenience, ease of purchase and, of course, a high-quality product or service, chances are customer loyalty isn’t a big issue.
However, surprising your customers from time to time is another way to ensure repeat business. After all, a happy customer “is a pleasure to have, but an ecstatic one can prove to be the boon for the business,” as MyCustomer notes. Not only are these customers satisfied with your business, but they “also reinforce your brand to … others and will act as your advocates.”
How can you go about surprising and delighting customers and setting the foundation for long-term customer loyalty?
Find out more about your customers.
How long has it been since you surveyed your customer base? If there’s been no recent attempt to collect customer preference data, you’re probably missing out on opportunities to devise new ways to engender greater satisfaction among your customer base.
The National Business Research Instituteoffers these tips for crafting a solid customer survey:
- Keep your survey and questions brief. Ideally, a customer satisfaction survey should consist of a handful of questions that can be answered within 5-10 minutes (preferably less).
- Include open-ended questions. Offer customers the chance to respond at length (if that’s their choice) with a few open-ended, non-yes-or-no questions.
- Respond to any specific complaints. Customers rarely expect a business to act upon a negative response to their surveys. Making that response–or, better yet, acting to rectify a problem–will surprise and delight them.
Making changes in your business as a result of survey response also demonstrates your commitment to customer satisfaction.
Always be responsive.
Consumers are inured to businesses that never reply to their inquiries and complaints. If your policy is to reply to all customer questions within a 24-hour time frame, you’re well on your way to surprising them and instilling loyalty over the long run.
Offer special benefits to your customers.
Everyone likes getting hold of a discount but when they appear out of the blue, it’s a big, welcome surprise. You know who your best customers are. From time to time, surprise them with a product discount, a special coupon, or some other acknowledgment (like a gift card on their birthday). The amount of goodwill you generate with this act far outweighs any additional cost to your business. Plus–excited and happy customers will let family and friends know about your great gift!
Get your employees in the “customer surprise” mode.
Every interaction with your business is considered a customer experience. This means that everyone within the organization who has direct customer contact should always be ready to go above and beyond. You might also consider empowering them to make some low-level decision on the spot, regarding refunds or returns.
More importantly, team members in every department should be encouraged and rewarded for creative input on what more can be done to surprise and delight customers. Team members are bound to come up with innovative suggestions to help build customer loyalty.
Ask for (and reward) new customer referrals.
As noted, excited customers are most likely to talk up your business with family and friends. But you don’t need to sit back and wait for word-of-mouth to make its effect known. Create and promote a “customer referral program” that specifically encourages your customers to spread the word in their own communities.
Set up a notification on your website that alerts you when new business comes in through a customer’s referral. Then be sure to make a big deal out of the experience. Reward the referring customer with a special gift, a promotional discount, or some other effort that acknowledges the good word they put in on your behalf.
Boost customer loyalty with targeted social media efforts.
Social media is an excellent tool for fostering long-term loyalty. As you establish profiles on popular platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.), share valued-added content that either you produce or that you come across that can benefit your followers. Set up alerts so you know whenever your business is mentioned (in a good way or not-so-good way). And stay responsive to any negative feedback–particularly specific complaints you can address and fix ASAP. Over time, your followers–and others who just “check in” from time to time–will come to see how customer-centric your business is, and want to learn more.
No business can succeed without customers. That’s why inspiring loyalty should be at the top of every small business owner’s priority list.