As an entrepreneur, you are used to working on a budget. When getting your business started, almost everything is going to fall on your shoulders—social media, SEO, reputation management, customer service, accounting, and much more.
Have you taken the time to think about how to build customer loyalty?
Are you thinking “I’ve got so much other stuff on my plate, that really isn’t on my list of priorities right now! I need a sign over my door, a website that doesn’t crash, and more actual customers before I start worrying about all that.”
I hear you.
Setting priorities is difficult, and just because something matters doesn’t mean it matters right this second.
But, building customer loyalty should be one of your top priorities for many reasons. Here are four reasons why you should focus on customer loyalty early in the business building process:
- Good Service is Good Business: According to American Express, 70% of customers are willing to spend more with brands that provide better customer service.
- Bad Service Hurts—And You Might Not Even Realize It: According to some research for every complaint you receive, 26 unsatisfied customers walk out your door, never to return.
- You Can’t Buy Loyalty: All the marketing dollars in the world won’t help develop solid word of mouth referrals, which remain one of the most effective methods of growing your business.
- Keeping Customers is Cheaper Than Finding Them: Customer loyalty is about more than just making people feel warm and fuzzy. It is also more cost-effective—which is a huge deal when you are an entrepreneur on a budget.
Building customer loyalty is an effective use of your time for many reasons, and should be high on your list of business priorities. Let’s look at a few ways you can bootstrap the cost of customer loyalty to build a strong following of loyal customers who sell your product for you.
1. It’s The Little Things
The little things really do matter. You don’t have to spend a bunch of cash to put a smile on your customer’s face. Photojojo, a company that sells photo related gifts and accessories, includes a small plastic dinosaur with each purchase. The little dinosaur is so popular that customers actually submit photos of their plastic toys.
The Photojojo content team took it a step further by creating content about how to create picture stands with the dinos. A little silly, a little sweet, and a small gesture that obviously resonates with their audience.
I found a 72 count bag of plastic dinosaurs on Amazon for under $10, which goes to show you really don’t have to spend much to make an impression.
Granted, dinosaurs might not fit with your brand image, but there are plenty of ways to add a special touch. Here are a few ideas:
- Send a small sample product with each order (a note card you designed, a few stickers, branded pen, etc.)
- Offer small discounts to returning customers or referrals (even a 10% discount is shown to increase loyalty)
- Follow up when customers order new products and ask for feedback
- Create unique packaging to excite your customers
2. Say Thank You!
Turns out, your parents were right. Saying please and thank you really does matter.
Think about it this way: when your customers give you money, they are essentially trading a portion of their lives (the hours they worked to earn that money) for your product. Acknowledging that sacrifice and saying thank you is a small price to pay. It will make your customers feel good, and it shows you care about more than just their wallets.
Here is an example of verbiage you can use to show your appreciation:
Thank you for choosing our company. We know you have a lot of choices when it comes to <insert your product/service>, and we are honored you chose us. Our family will continue to work hard to deserve your loyalty. Please let us know if there is anything we can do to make sure you enjoy our <product, service, etc.>
You can send this out in a follow-up email, but also consider sending a handwritten note from time to time.
3. Respond to Customer Reviews
There are a lot of benefits to responding to customer reviews. To start, Google likes it. It is also proven to show other customers you care about your customers and are trustworthy.
Above all the benefits, responding to reviews helps make sure your customers are happy. Yes, there will be the occasional troll or customer who won’t be happy no matter what you do, but there are just as many customers you could turn into loyal fans by following up with them.
To turn not-so-happy customers into loyal fans, start by offering a sincere apology, offering a solution if appropriate, and thanking them for taking the time to write a review.
Here is an example of a thoughtful response from a pizza restaurant that serves Chicago style pizza (Full disclosure: they are my client):
The owner responded swiftly with an apology and a request for more information. The customer never replied, but this does show other customers the business cares about what customers have to say. That caring attitude is likely carried over into their service.
Often, a response is more for others who might read the reviews than the original reviewer.
4. Share Your Values
Customers don’t build relationships with brands, they build relationships with people. Many brands spend a lot of energy focusing on building a ‘professional’ persona, which can actually prevent customers from engaging with them.
Many brands spend a lot of energy focusing on building a ‘professional’ persona, which can actually prevent customers from engaging with them.
What does your brand stand for? Are you a family-owned businesses focused on your local community? Are you a tech startup dedicated to promoting women in tech? Or maybe your brand offers an analytic tool, and you really just want to make a profit and create a fun work space.
Take the values that make your brand unique and share them with your audience. If you are targeting the right audience, then your values should be their values as well.
A great example of this is Aerie’s “Unretouched” ads campaigns. Tired of unrealistic ads targeted towards younger and younger girls, they decided to only use photos of models that were completely unretouched. No Photoshop, no airbrushing, just real girls with real bodies.
This relativity simple campaign helps build a strong connection with their customer base, who are drawn to their fresh, honest approach.
5. Keep Communication Lines Open
Communicating with your audience is vital to building a strong connection—and it can be one of the most inexpensive ways to build a loyal fan base. Keeping your brand name “top of mind” is vital to building loyalty, but you also need to make sure those interactions are wanted or you risk being annoying.
Utilize all the communication formats available to you, but also make it easy for your customers to tell you how they want to be contacted. Newsletters, weekly digest emails, social media, text messages, and phone calls can all be great ways to reach your audience, but don’t overdo it.
Make it easy for customers to unsubscribe to communications and pay attention to unopen rates. A simple message of “Hey, we noticed you haven’t opened an email from us in a while, is there a better address or method of communication you prefer?” can make a huge difference in your response rates.
Focus more on connecting with your customers than creating a huge email list.
6. Build Employee Loyalty
The number of companies that expect to grow their business without investing in employee loyalty never ceases to amaze me. Happy employees = happy customers. Period.
Creating a supportive environment where employees feel valued is the first step to creating loyal customers. Because no matter what position they are in, every employee is a salesperson at the end of the day.
Why does it matter? Happy employees bring a lot of benefits, including:
- Willingness to go above and beyond to ensure customer loyalty
- Personal investment in the outcome of every customer interaction
- A commitment to your brand and what it stands for
- Ability to articulate your brand’s value
Happy employees also become lifelong brand ambassadors—long after they leave your company. Think back to jobs you have had in the past, do you recommend those brands to your friends? Why or why not?
7. Get Personal
Last week I went to pull cash out of the ATM, and up on the screen popped an animated birthday cake with the message “Happy Birthday”. Awww, Wells Fargo remembered my birthday.
I’m sure it is automated, and it doesn’t take much effort on the part of the company. And even though I expect it, this small gesture makes me smile every year. While it isn’t the only reason I recommend their services to my friends and family, it is one small part of why I stick with them year after year.
Sending personalized communications helps create that “personal” connection I talked about early. Remember, customers want to do business with people, not nameless corporations. A small reminder that you appreciate them as a person can go a long way to creating a strong bond.
Here are a few times you might consider sending a personalized message to a client or customer:
- The anniversary of your working relationship
- When they launch a new product/service/etc.
- During the holiday/new year season
- After they receive a recognition or award
Remember, the idea is to bootstrap loyalty, so these occasions don’t require $100 gift baskets. A short a sweet letter or a box of chocolates will suffice. The most important factor here is authenticity, not cost.
Have you had success building customer loyalty on a budget? Feel free to share what worked for you in the comments section!