Is there any loyalty left in customers minds? Do they really care, and can you create loyalty? The answer is yes to all of these— if you plan and work at it. If you are starting a new business and you have no loyal customers yet, you will need to create some loyalty quickly.
You’re in luck, because many people like the comfort of frequenting the same business for years. Customers may test a new business once, but they’ll usually go back to their original place the next time.
Remember, though, that a satisfied customer is not necessarily a loyal one. Loyalty builds up over time and with a series of satisfactory experiences, plus a good feeling during the sale. This doesn’t happen overnight; it takes time, and you work on it all the time.
When I lived in Chicago, I went to the same barber for 12 years, until I moved. Now I’ve been with a new barber for seven years. I want to know that I can relax there and know that my haircut will be done exactly the way I want it done, and it takes repeated visits to get that feeling. A lower price or a new salon would not get me to change unless I had a reoccurring problem with the barber I was using.
You can establish that same feeling in any type of business, from a printer to a clothing store to a shoeshine stand. Loyal customers will build your business and guarantee that you’ll stay in business.
If you think of loyalty as part of a train, with all of your other business functions following it, then loyalty is the engine that pulls all the others. In a small business, customer loyalty and retention are even more important than they are in a corporate giant. Large corporations can always mass-advertise and get a new crop of customers—they do so regularly. But smaller companies don’t have that kind of budget for advertising, so they need to keep all their customers once they get them.
You should be aware of when a regular customer hasn’t come into your store or called to place an order for a while. If you’re used to getting their business once a month, but now three months have passed, it’s time to find out why. Just because a customer is loyal after a year, that doesn’t necessarily mean the same customer will be loyal after two years or five years. Creating loyalty isn’t a onetime process; it’s an ongoing course of action. After you create loyalty, you must sustain it. Consistently high quality and personal service will go a long way toward sustaining long-term loyalty.
But only one recent exception can destroy many past good experiences.
And what about loyalty in franchises? When you travel and want a quick fast-food meal, you may look for a familiar logo because you know that the quality will be more or less the same as it is back home. That works to the advantage of franchise owners when it comes to out-of-towners, but for them to keep their local customers, they need to add friendliness and cleanliness to their store’s personality. You can develop your own store personality that customers will remember, and if they like it, they’ll keep coming back.
The same is true for business customers. If they see a specific personality that you’ve established and they feel comfortable, they’ll continue purchasing from your company.
Regardless of whether you’re selling to businesses, opening a retail store, running a franchise location, or doing consumer sales, this chapter will help you learn how to create and sustain customer loyalty.