As a small-business owner, you know better than anyone that repeat business is essential—even critical—to keep your doors open and foster growth. Your customers’ continued business is the foundation on which any prosperous enterprise is built. Think about the amount you spend on advertising, direct mail, and publicity to get a new customer—and then remember that it costs nothing but effort to keep them coming back.
Large companies rely on repetitive advertising and expensive promotions to get customers because they can’t always control their customer service and personal attention. When you think about going back to a fast-food restaurant, do you remember their last big advertising campaign on TV or the person who served you? My guess is that you remember the advertising, which costs big bucks that a small business can’t afford. So why not take the easier and more economical way of attracting customers? Repeat satisfied customers will build your business faster than anything else.
Here are numerous ideas you can adapt to your business to keep your customers coming back:
- Use the customer’s name often. How important do you feel when you walk into a business and hear, “Hi Bob, how are you today?” Find a way to remember names and associate them with faces. You’ll convey a good feeling right from the first contact.
- Give more than you promise. Deliver more quickly, add a little extra to the order, charge a little less than your estimate, upgrade at no charge, and so on. We all like pleasant surprises; they happen so seldom.
- Hire friendly people. A smile on your employees’ faces and in their voices will help customers feel comfortable doing business with you. The words friendly and smile should appear in all your help-wanted ads.
- Say thank you. We all want to know that our patronage is appreciated; after all, we’re spending our hard-earned money. These two simple words should be in everyone’s vocabulary at all times—they never get old.
- Ask for customer input. What new products or services do they want, and will they purchase them? What don’t they like— selection, prices, business hours, long lines? Then change what you can.
- Change with the times. Products, services, benefits, and technology change quickly and constantly, so don’t remain stagnant. What was popular yesterday may be obsolete today and gone tomorrow. Stay on top of the trends in your industry.
- Calculate the long-term value of a customer. How often does he buy from you, and what will he buy over 10 or
20 years? The numbers will surprise you, but the only way to receive that business is to keep the customer satisfied with great service and value.
- Match—or, better yet, exceed—what your competitors are offering. This doesn’t mean launching a price war,
but you can find ways of doing the same thing better or faster. Be an innovator, not a copycat. Create word-of-mouth advertising by incorporating your new ideas.
- Show customers the benefits rather than the features. They want to know what it can do for them, not technical
jargon or shoptalk. How will your products make their job or life easier? That’s what sells!
- Reward customer loyalty. Use frequent-buyer programs, coupons, scratch-offs, special gifts, and so on. Implement early notification of sales, early-bird offers, preferred customer lines, and special attention for frequent customers. Everyone likes that little something extra that makes him feel important.
- Treat employees well. Their enthusiasm and pride for your business will come through when assisting your clients and customers. Encourage suggestions and create a feeling of trust and respect. Well-trained and compensated employees will stay longer, require less supervision, and cost you less in the long run.
- Do constant research. You can make sure you’re satisfying customers by using surveys and comment cards. Have an employee-of-the-month program and let customers vote and add their comments or special requests to their vote.
- Stay in contact. You need to be in your customers’ minds every time they need to buy something in your industry.
Develop and use mailing lists from orders, contests, or businesscard drawings. Send to people who are already customers more often than you do to random prospects. Give them a new offer or a reason to purchase again.
- Handle problems and complaints promptly. Not every order or purchase will go smoothly—it’s just part of being in business. It’s how you resolve the problem that really matters. Listen to the customer’s view and satisfy him as quickly as you can. Don’t sidestep complaints and make the client ask twice.
- Provide customer education. An informed and knowledgeable customer is a better consumer of your products and
services. Offer verbal instructions and ideas along with easyto- understand brochures. Have on-site classes at no charge for anyone who wants to know more about your industry.
- Cross-train your employees. When someone is off or on vacation, there should always be someone who can step in and handle a customer’s questions. A factory can’t have one part of its assembly line idle, or the entire operation stops. Don’t let there be any gaps in your service or operation.
- Give VIP treatment. Giving special attention, offering special hours, letting them meet the owner/president, and providing other perks can make customers feel like you really appreciate and need their business—which is true. The airlines do this at little expense by providing preferred check-in lines and upgraded seating. Find something you can offer to make your customers feel highly valued and special.
- Get testimonials. Letters and comment cards from satisfied and enthusiastic customers are great selling tools for use with new prospects. No one wants to be a guinea pig, and past performance can create a comfort level for new buyers. You probably won’t get letters from satisfied customers unless you ask, though, so always request them.
- Assess your customers’ needs. Always be thinking of ways to improve your products and services to fulfill your customers’ needs and wants. Often little changes can add big value and increase sales, referrals, and repeat business.
- Use your employees’ ideas. They have everyday contact with your customers and often will have suggestions you didn’t think of. Always reward ideas that you use. Stress the importance of sharing ideas on the very first day and remind employees of this at periodic meetings.
- Use your customers’ ideas. They know what they want to buy, so how can you get any better input? Sell what they want to buy, not what you want to sell. Get out in your store or on the phone and ask them.
The bottom line is that you work hard and spend money to get customers, so don’t let them escape when you have them.
Do anything and everything necessary to satisfy them and keep in contact. Keep them coming back over and over again, and your business will prosper and grow. If you let them make their next purchase elsewhere, you’ll have to start all over again. Remember the old real estate phrase, “Location, location, location?” Well, in small business, it’s, “Repeat, repeat, repeat.”