The end of the year is always a pivotal time for re-evaluation and reflection. As 2010 winds down, bringing to a close an economically tumultuous decade, many small business owners may find themselves re-thinking the most fundamental areas of how they do business, and this process will no doubt include how these companies are going about cultivating and developing their customer relationships.
Even though technology has made for a fuller, more three-dimensional interaction between customers and the businesses they patron (think: Twitter and Foursquare), in the end, when it comes to building customer loyalty, the same old rules apply: make communication a priority, offer quality products and services, and value your customers to keep them coming back for more (and hopefully with their friends).
Below are a few key tips to keep in mind to build customer loyalty in the new year:
Promptly respond to customer inquiries and general attempts at communication. Make it a priority to get back to your customers. When customers feel that they and their concerns are important to you then they will be more likely to give you their business. Even if you don't have an immediate answer to an inquiry, you should try to acknowledge receiving a customer's e-mail or voice message within 24 hours, and inform the person that you are looking into the request or already taking action on it. For those who use Twitter, make sure to acknowledge direct messages, re-tweets, and general tweets involving your business.
Make sure out-going correspondence is clear, concise, and professional. It goes without saying that you should also make sure also that any written correspondence is spell-checked and free from grammatical errors, and that the response is relevant to the inquiry. But, you should also pay attention to how you respond to your customers. Voice messages, emails, and letters should be clear and concise, and where appropriate, personal. The diligence and care will help to ensure that customers feel both that your company is professional and that the communication itself is important to you.
Look for where you can give a personal touch. Handwritten notes, special "birthday coupons", personally addressed and targeted emails, and no-obligation follow-up phone calls, can make a big impression on your customers' minds and will measurably improve your customer loyalty.
Reward repeat business. Look for ways to give your best customers preferential treatment, such as small coupons or discounts as well as flexible payment options.
Get your customers involved in your business. Try to get your customers involved in improving and promoting your business. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to talk to your customers. You can speak to them in person when they come to your business and ask them for suggestions, or you can ask them to fill out a quick questionnaire, or have a suggestion box. Here again follow-up is very important. Even if you do not end up using a customer's suggestion, you should let him or her know that you considered it. You can also get customers involved in promotion by, for example, having them forward emails to friends in exchange for a discount at your business, or you could run contests for the best logo or T-shirt design.
In short, customer relationships are just like any other: the more your customers will feel appreciated and valued, the more they'll be inclined to keep coming back.