Question: My small business depends on repeat customers. What’s the best way to ensure customer loyalty?

Answer: Cultivating customer loyalty is an essential part of any successful business.

But what constitutes a “Loyal” customer can generally be defined as follows:

  • Willing to pay a premium for what they consider to be value added services
  • Not looking for or influenced by availability or pricing of other brands
  • Willing to refer your products and/or services to others

 A loyal customer will pay a little more for a product he or she perceives to be of superior quality, or a service that goes beyond what they have experienced in past dealings with other providers. Craftsmen tools included a lifetime replacement warranty and many high-end department stores will accept returns with no exceptions.

 Small businesses with a smaller clientele have the advantage of personalizing the relationship. They learn their customers names and buying habits. They can offer loyalty programs that include advance notice of sales and discounts. With that information they can send announcements and coupons promoting their customer’s preferences.

 All this causes the customer to return to the store, and while there, you have the opportunity to interest them in other products or services.

 Essential to customer loyalty is the proper training of your staff. Never assume that a new hire knows how to treat a client. Role playing with experienced staff is an excellent way to understand the complexities of dealing with the public.

As an example, take a restaurant that caters to an upscale clientele. All greeter and servers are dressed and groomed appropriately. Your drink, appetizer and entree orders all follow in a timely manner. Your water glass is always filled without your notice.

Food is prepared to your specifications, with acute attention to allergy concerns. The wait staff never interrupts your conversation and the restaurant manager always knows your name and stops by the table to ensure your total satisfaction.

 Suffice to say, the customer will return frequently because they feel appreciated. The icing on the cake is when that loyal customer is so impressed, he or she can’t wait to tell their friends of the total experience.

 Sometimes your best efforts are not enough. If you receive a complaint, view it as an opportunity to improve. Be respectful and assure the complainant their concerns will be dealt with immediately. Let them leave with a gift card that can be used on their next visit.

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Gray Poehler is a volunteer with SCORE Naples. Business counseling on this and other business matters is available, without charge, from the Naples Chapter of SCORE. Call (239) 430-0081 or visit https://naples.score.org/mentors .The SCORE business office is located at 900 Goodlette Road North, in the Fifth Third branch bank building.