8 Tips Every SMB Should Know
Most small business owners are well aware that repeat customers are the key to their ongoing success. But in an age when your customers have so many choices, it's more important than ever to find ways to maintain their loyalty. With this in mind, here are eight tips to help you ensure customer loyalty by continuing to put your customers first.
1. Know what your customers want. No matter how long you've been in business, things change. This applies to your customers' attitudes, tastes, and behaviors. You simply cannot assume you know exactly what customers want without asking them at regular intervals. Creating a new product or service without their input might be successful sometimes, but how much more successful would it be with the benefit of customer input during research and development? Talk with customers often and send surveys out from your CRM system or from a simple survey tool. Understand their true needs and what they want your business to do for them. Be sure to record not only aggregate information, but also the individual wants, needs, and preferences of each customer in your CRM system.
2. Make each individual feel special. Think about your own experiences at the hair salon or doctor's office. How did it feel when the people there remembered your name and addressed you personally, like a friend they were happy to see again? That's the feeling you want to create for your customers.
When possible, before your customer arrives, take a quick look at his or her profile in your CRM system, even if you only have a minute or so. Asking how a child is doing or how the new job is progressing makes all the difference in the world.
Make eye contact. Smile and tell your customers how happy you are to see them. Offer a handshake. These small gestures add up to something much bigger—loyalty. When they know you genuinely value them, customers come back.
3. Reach out at least once per month. Even your regular, long-term customers don't want to hear from you every day. But they do want to know about new and exciting ways your business can help them succeed. A great solution is to send a monthly or biweekly newsletter via email—many CRM solutions offer this capability. And if yours doesn't, it's simple to import customer data into an email marketing system, such as MailChimp or Constant Contact.
Keep your newsletter simple: Three short news items with a brief paragraph summary, along with links to the longer article or blog post, is all that's needed. And be sure to always add at least one useful tip per story.
4. Don't overwhelm customers with email. A common mistake among new business owners, or those just getting started with social media, is to assume customers need to receive constant messages. They don't. The quickest way to lose email subscribers is to bombard them with messages, day after day. Less is more. Send fewer, more meaningful emails that contain original, valuable content. This shows respect for your customers' time.
5. Provide an online feedback portal. Don't rely on an email address for customer feedback. You have enough emails to sort through. Instead, make it easy for customers to let you know what they think by creating an online form they can use at their convenience. Most CRM solutions make creating and implementing forms a snap today. This also lets you ask questions to gain input on specific topics of concern. To drive traffic to the feedback portal, be sure to embed the form on your Web site and include links to it in newsletters, electronic receipts, and other communications.
6. Remove barriers to doing business. Even though we all enjoy the mobility, speed, and ease of the Internet, it's still surprising how many barriers continue to stand in the way of doing business. Manual forms, paperwork, and other inefficient processes cause headaches for everyone. To overcome this, try breaking your entire sales cycle down into small, distinct steps. Then identify one way to eliminate friction at each step in the cycle. This will do more than make your customers and prospects happier—it may significantly lower your operating costs and boost your profitability as well.
7. Avoid multitasking when you're with a customer. It's easy to be distracted by text messages and phone calls when your mobile phone is always with you. But taking a call while you're with a customer is more than rude. It's a huge turn-off, because it tells the customer she is not as important as the call. When you're with customers, be fully present and focus on them. Since customers are your first priority, everything else can wait.
8. Don't rush people out the door. Use this important touchpoint to set the stage for your next visit with customers. Rather than simply saying "good-bye," spend a moment chatting. Find out if they got everything they expected. Ask if there is anything else you can do for them. When you truly care about your customers and take time to listen to them, they feel valued and appreciated. That translates into positive experiences and positive cash flow.
No matter how long you've been in business, or whether you market a product or service, nothing can replace loyal customers. With myriad buying choices available today, it's more important than ever to remember that customers are your top priority. Putting these eight tips to work can help you earn and keep their loyalty for many years to come.
Bob La Loggia is the CEO of Appointment-Plus, a provider of Web-based scheduling software for small, medium, and enterprise businesses. For more information, visit appointment-plus.com.