Scheming endlessly to reel in new customers for your small business is time consuming, inefficient and exhausting. Successful business plans, more often than not, strive for one goal: Customer loyalty.
A smart, intuitive business model is shaped to prompt return customers — the make-or-break source of revenue for small businesses.
So how do you win over customers’ allegiance? Simple: Play to their personal sensibilities.
Customers are likely to continue supporting establishments — whether local retailers, restaurants, banks, or other businesses — that lead them to feel their patronage is valued highly, by building relationships and displaying gestures of appreciation. Businesses that view customers merely as another transaction, conversely, will reap minimal (if any) long-term benefits.
As a small business analyst, I’m convinced that persistent, personable communication with customers is the silver bullet to growing and maintaining a prosperous business. We’re all human and we all have a sweet spot; it’s critical your business focuses on pleasing the customer, the foundation of your business.
Customer satisfaction determines whether or not a small business will sink or swim. Devoting time and energy to widespread, shameless advertising strategies designed to lure any demographic is excusable only during the early stages of your business plan; transforming a drop-in customer into a loyal regular requires a far more diligent approach.
Consider these tried-and-true tips to keep your business’s doors swinging open with familiar faces.
Place your business in customers’ line of sight
Leveraging social media venues — Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, among other outlets — to spotlight your business is a cornerstone of every entrepreneurial effort. Online advertising constitutes a substantial portion of most business plans, and can cost next to nothing. Facebook, for example, is a blueprint for how your business can benefit from social media. The social networking giant allows businesses to create a following fan club, which keeps customers in the loop with deals on merchandise and events. For business owners with a bit of know-how, it’s a golden age for inexpensive advertising.
Listen (and ask for) customer critiques
Constructive criticism is invaluable when running a small business, especially when rolling out a tentative business plan. Customers are sensitive to their surroundings, and almost always sum up their experience within the first five minutes of entering. Think of your customers as bearers of free advice, and remain open-minded to any recommendations or suggestions. When they see you integrate their ideas, they’ll feel like a part of the business and give you the best marketing there is — word of mouth.
Business owners should develop a plan to seek customer critiques. Collect emails at the register and send out an easy survey, put a suggestion box by the door, or simply ask.
Host social gatherings with free food and drinks
Depending on your financial state, consider hosting parties for clients, not only to spread your company’s name, but to cultivate relationships with current and prospective customers. Likewise, attend the gatherings of similar businesses. Regardless of your product line or business model, developing a steady clientele is based mostly on how well you relate to others on a personal level.
Customers likely will continue patronizing an establishment that puts a personal spin on their business. Sharpening your customer service skills or employing an approachable, friendly staff may give your business a leg up against competitors that are void of interpersonal skills.
Don’t try to cater to everyone
Worrying about customer satisfaction across the board will drive you and your business into the ground. Targeting a specific demographic, rather, will enable your business to develop genuine, lasting relationships with customers, as well as help mold your business’s identity.
Businesses that strive for inclusiveness and waste time and advertising funds trying to please everyone, in turn pleasing no one. Narrowing your target audience, instead, will enable you to accommodate a select group of customers, which are more likely to turn into life-long supporters of your business as a result of quality service.
Show some gratitude
Your customers are the reason you’re in business, and typically are won over by frequent gestures of appreciation. Carrying out warm, sincere transactions, for example, will show that you value your customers, which will lead them to feel they made the right decision in choosing your business.
A simple smile, a handshake, or endeavoring to learn customers’ names will forge personal connections. Successful business owners often drive home this strategy, aware of the value of casting a personal light on your business.
Stay in touch
Following up occasionally with your clientele will boost return rates. Phone calls, emails and, if you find the time, hand-written thank-you notes likely will prompt customers to reserve your business for a return visit, rather than moving indifferently from company to company.
The key is maintaining personal contact with your customers. Bombarding their phone lines with follow up calls or inboxes with emails may stall their return; occasional correspondence, however, will likely lead them back through your doors. Finding that balance between aggressively pursuing customers and effortlessly awaiting their return may take time but, in the long run, is worth the effort.
Industry veteran Anita Brady is the President of 123Print.com, a leading provider of high quality customizable items like business cards, letterhead and other materials for small businesses and solo practitioners.