Friday, August 15, 2014

How to Earn Customer Loyalty (BusinessWeek)

Question: I get a lot of customers who come into my business once but never return. Do you have any tips on building customer loyalty?
Answer: Loyalty really comes down to this: giving people a reason to shop at your business, rather than going across town or hopping online and spending their money at a larger, better-known company. Most often, people go out of their way to patronize small companies because they know and like the people there and enjoy the shopping experience.
Of course, you have to offer excellent products or services at reasonable prices, but you probably can’t compete for customers who are looking only at cost. What you’ve got that the bigger guys don’t, however, is a reputation in your community.
Be the kind of friendly, honest, service-oriented business owner whom everyone enjoys interacting with, and you shouldn’t have a problem getting repeat customers. Here are a few more specific tips:
Make your customer service stellar. Seems obvious, right? Yet how many times have you gotten the evil eye from a surly clerk or been ignored by a receptionist on a personal call? “Make sure the customer is dealt with promptly, courteously, and efficiently. Customers will remember this, but they will remember bad service even more,” says Gabriel Bristol, president and chief executive officer ofIntelicare Direct, which operates customer service call centers in Las Vegas and San Diego.
Be a people person. Remember names and family details. Buying decisions are more emotional than logical. Give your customers good feelings, and they’ll come back for more. “There cannot be any customer loyalty if you do not genuinely care about customers,” says Joy Karp, a small business owner and the author of The Power of Service: Service Through the Eyes of Customers. Your employees should be genuinely kind, caring people as well. “Bad or sullen attitudes are contagious and will infect your service like a bad flu,” she says. “Get rid of it wherever it exists within your business.”
Resolve problems quickly. It’s not always easy, but don’t ignore or get annoyed by complaints. “Not every product works exactly right, and sometimes paid services don’t meet expectations,” Bristol says. “Accept that when the customer’s expectations haven’t been met, you must work hard to make sure the issues are resolved to their satisfaction. They will remember this, and they will feel like their purchases are safe with you next time.”
Don’t oversell. “No badgering, no patronizing,” Karp says, recalling a shoe store owner who was so pushy he drove customers right out the door. Focus more on how you can help your customers than on how you can sell them something. “Humor is good, as long as it is clean and relevant, never sarcastic or cynical,” Karp adds.
Keep in touch. Let your regulars know about specials, sales, and new products. Thank them in person and with special discounts—or even freebies—for being such loyal customers. Once they know how much they mean to you, they won’t want to take their business anyplace else.
Klein is a Los Angeles-based writer who covers entrepreneurship and small-business issues.

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