While new companies obviously need to spend time and money on acquiring new customers, there should be an equal amount of time and effort going into retaining those customers. The seed that hopefully blossoms into customer loyalty is planted during the very first interaction with a potential customer. Treat them poorly and they’re not likely to come back. Treat them well and you’ve got the beginning of what could be a long-term relationship.
When it comes to customer loyalty, it should be no secret that how you treat your customers has a direct impact on how easy it is to retain them. No one wants to walk into a business and be ignored, have emails that go unanswered, or have customer service reps be short or impatient.
(As a customer, I don’t care if you’re having a bad day.)
Customer loyalty is something that develops with each and every single interaction your business, and its employees, have with that customer. Spending the time and effort (and yes, even money) to ensure customers leave each interaction happy, satisfied, and excited for the next time they get to engage with your company is an incredibly wise investment.
It costs five times as much to get a new customer than to keep an existing one, and loyal customers are more likely to try new products you offer and spend more when they do. Retention is so powerful that increasing retention rates by just 5% can boost profits by a whopping 25% to 95%! Focusing on retaining the customers you do have should be a top priority from day one. It’s vital to put serious thought into how you’re going to do that now, not later.
To help get the ideas flowing, here are my top 7 ways to cultivate customer loyalty.
Find your why and be consistent with your story.
People want to feel like they’re a part of something. They want to feel like their actions, and even purchases, have an impact on issues bigger than themselves and their single household. By taking the time to craft your brand’s story and why you do what you do, you are giving customers a reason to support you that extends beyond just liking your product.
If you make acme widgets, there are likely several other companies that also make acme widgets. The reality is, there are only so many physical differences between your product and theirs. It’s much more powerful to market your story, not the physical or manufacturing differences. While those distinctions, and features like quality and reliability are obviously important, the real difference, and the magic, is in your why.
Studies have shown that how customers see your company may have an even bigger impact than how you treat them on an individual level. So make the effort to consistently tell customers why you do what you do, not just what you do. As Simon Sinek, author of Start With Why states, “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” For example, Patagonia sells great outdoor clothing and gear. That’s what they do. Their why is being “in business to save our home planet.” That mission resonates a hell of a lot more than “bro, sweet looking jacket.”
When you consistently use your company’s voice to communicate your why, you will inspire customers, attract people who resonate with your message, and get folks more deeply invested in your brand.
Use real humans (forget the bots)
In our modern, tech-heavy world, the promise of having a set-it-and-forget-it style communication with customers is pretty attractive. Dealing with customer questions—or worse yet, complaints—is time consuming and energy draining. If you can set up some “helpful” bots via your site’s online chat, email responders, and phone system, why not? At least you’re not ignoring incoming requests and you’re actually just weeding out the problem kids, right? Maybe not so much.
Nothing turns off customers more, and instills the opposite of customer loyalty, than making it a seemingly insurmountable challenge to simply talk to a real live human when they contact your business. It may seem that automating is an ideal solution to help you free up time, but it’s not. It’s a thin line between automating too much and too little and when in doubt, always err on the side of too little. If you don’t, you’ll find yourself working to try and replace the customers that bail on you after getting frustrated just trying to ask a simple question.
Make it as simple and easy as you possibly can for customers to communicate with your company. Customer loyalty is impossible to build with frustrated customers.
Make it simple and easy for customers to communicate with you. Contrary to popular belief, this doesn’t mean you have to always be available to provide an immediate response 24×7. But, you do have to clearly state when you are available, when folks can expect to hear back, and stick to that schedule religiously. (If you say you get back to people within 1 business day, do it. Every. Single. Time.)
If you use an online chat on your site (you definitely should!) clearly state the hours someone is available and include a note when someone can expect to hear back from you after hours. Provide bot-style answers to your most frequently asked questions to give folks the opportunity to get a quick answer—especially outside of manned hours—not as a replacement for interacting with an actual person.
No matter how out of control your inbox is, only use an email autoresponder to notify folks as to when they can expect to get an actual response (ie, within 1-2 business days). Again, make sure you adhere to whatever timeline you give them.
If you use a phone system to route calls to various departments or people, make it short, sweet, and simple. Nothing is more frustrating than trying to work your way through an endless phone tree. Admit it, you hate it too. So what could possibly make you think your customers want to do it?
Having an actual, living, breathing human on the other end creates a more lasting connection between you and that customer. A person, not a bot, is also way more likely to resolve the customer’s issue quicker, which is more likely to keep that customer loyal. While we’re on our devices a lot, and it may seem like we have a connection with them, they’re not even remotely close to a replacement for communication between two people.
Streamline your social media
Hard as it may be to believe, but it wasn’t that long ago that there were only a handful of social media platforms available. Today, there are seven major platforms (not to mention an ever-growing number of smaller ones) all calling out for your attention. And while you may think you need to be engaged on all of them so you don’t miss out on potential customers, the reality is, you can’t expect to have an effective presence on them all. The trick is to determine which one or two platforms are most likely to reach your preferred audience and focus your attention there. Ignore the rest.
Consumers expect a quick response when contacting businesses on social media platforms. Research has shown that 42% expect a response within an hour and another 32% expect a response within just 30 minutes. To further demonstrate the expectation of a quick response time via social media, 57% of users expect this same quick response day, night and even weekends.
If you’re stretched too thin and trying to properly manage too many platforms, your response time, the content you’re posting, and the connection you’re trying to establish with customers is going to suffer. By selecting and concentrating on just one or two platforms, you will be able to maintain quick response times, consistently post quality content, and create a much stronger sense of community.
Seek advice and actually listen
Far too often, businesses disregard customer feedback—especially if it’s criticism they don’t want to hear. That’s a huge mistake, however, and businesses should be asking for input from customers at every opportunity.
If customers tell you your checkout process is clunky, streamline it to make it smoother. If they tell you your response time is too slow, put systems in place to speed it up. If your site takes forever to load, work with your hosting company (or find a new one) and fix it. If they continually ask for a new feature or product, add it as soon as you can. If orders are continually delivered damaged, improve the packaging you ship in. If they don’t like the layout of your store, change it.
Once you make any adjustments as a result of customer feedback, send out emails and notifications to all customers letting them know about the improvements. This let’s them know that not only do you pay attention to the feedback they give you, you actually act on it as well.
Implementing a loyalty and rewards program is a great way to incentivize your customers—both the repeat and not-so-repeat folks. These programs reward customers with discounts, coupons and promos to entice them to continue to interact (and shop) with you. They reward points for customers taking various actions such as referring friends, writing reviews, following your social media accounts, and more. Not only does this give customers a sense of connection with your company, but it provides even more opportunities to get your business in front of them.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of companies that implement rewards programs use them with short-term goals in mind. (Sell, sell, sell!) The real power of these programs, however, is felt when they are used to build customer loyalty over the long-term.
When building out your rewards program, it’s important to acknowledge that not all customers are created equal and some are more valuable than others. Your program should never give something for nothing, and there should always be an exchange of value—value to the customer that ultimately results in value generated for the business.
A rewards program is most powerful when it is built with long-term customer loyalty, not short-term gains, in mind.
Set up your program so that the rewards are linked to desirable customer habits—such as referrals and writing reviews. Don’t include one-time promotions in your rewards program. Make it easy for customers to redeem their rewards points.
When customizing your rewards program, keeping your eye squarely focused on long-term goals will help create more value for your business and more loyal customers over time. By focusing on providing the best value and rewards to the best customers, company revenue increases and those good customers become even more loyal.
Say “Thank You” (Not “Thanks”)
Most online businesses treat their thank-you page as the exit door. Just a chance to remind customers about what they bought, what it cost and a quick “thanks.” Utilizing the full potential of this final contact after a transaction is a sure-fire way to ratchet up the loyalty points with each customer.
After someone takes the time and money to place an order with you is the ideal time to ask for something much simpler and easier. Use this opportunity to ask them for something simple like sharing their purchase on social media or subscribing to your email list. This is a small ask from them, but can be incredibly valuable for you.
This is also the perfect time to confirm their decision to buy from you. Reminding them that you are the authority in your space or that they’re in good company by ordering from you can be extremely powerful. Doing this is as easy as including testimonials, suggestions/tips on how to use the product, or links to some relevant articles on your site on the final checkout page.
Most businesses are familiar with sending out emails at regular intervals for one of three reasons:
- To ask for a review.
- To tell them about more great stuff they can buy.
- To ask cart abandoners why they didn’t buy and enticing them to return.
Do you notice anything about these? All three are asking for something more from the customer. They are very one-sided and selfish. It’s all about buy, buy, buy. Now, it goes without saying that touching base with customers and potential customers for these reasons is important and certainly shouldn’t be neglected. After all, if they don’t buy, then you don’t stay open very long.
But here, I’m referring to something a bit more old-fashioned.
Sending purchase-related requests is great for sales, but we’re talking about loyalty here. When you follow up with customer loyalty as the main driver, you’re not asking them for anything. You’re checking in to see how they’re doing. How’s their experience with your product? Are they happy? Is there anything you can do to help improve their experience? This is also your chance to provide even more value for them. When sending these follow ups, you can also include links to pertinent articles, videos or podcasts that can help enrich their experience with your product and your company.
Anyone can (and should) send emails, push notifications or hit folks up with retargeting ads. To build customer loyalty, you need to aim higher—and more personal—than that. Send them an actual birthday card with a special promo. Include a handwritten thank you note in their order. If they’ve found success with your product, ask if you can share their story on your site.
Remember, it’s all about them. Do whatever you can to connect with them often without asking them to buy more stuff. Show them your business cares about more than just their money.
Obtaining long-term customer loyalty should be a priority for all businesses, regardless of if you’re a start-up with one customer or a more mature company with a substantial client list. It’s important to keep in mind that loyalty is a two-way street between your business and your customers. Often, companies treat it more like a one-way street, asking customers to buy, buy, buy, doubling down on efforts when times get tough. That’s not a recipe for developing long-term customer loyalty. Companies that can find ways to help support their customers beyond just the sale will have greater success, a more stable customer base and develop a much stronger community.
Wong, A. and Sohal, A. (2003), “Service quality and customer loyalty perspectives on two levels of retail relationships”, Journal of Services Marketing, Vol. 17 No. 5, pp. 495-513. https://doi.org/10.1108/08876040310486285