Creating loyalty doesn’t have to be difficult. It just takes good common sense. But. it also requires you to build a culture of service – at your virtual and real world sales counter.

We all know great customer service when we see it. When quality customer service is what brings them back for more (isn’t that what loyalty is?), why is it so hard for small business owners to pull it off? try these tips to start building loyalty among your own customers and clients:

  • Clean your windows! Be very aware of what your customers see from the street. Post clear, attractive, and inviting signage. Keep it neat and professional. Seasonal and whimsical can be appropriate, but keep it simple, so your identity is not lost. This applies to the front of your online business. Put emphasis on accessibility, ease of navigation, and welcoming design. Remember, website appearance must be an integration of visual design and search functionality. Pretty is a side-benefit and not a goal.
  • Put your best face forward! Stop cleaning up after staffs who don’t meet your customers’ needs. Hire people-forward people, employees are keen on stepping forward, cracking a smile, and shaking a hand. Before you put them on the floor, make sure they know your key customers by appearance, name, and need. If you don’t physically meet your online customers, make sure your picture and those of your customer friendly staff are on the website. Encourage your customers to connect through Skype or Google+; it’s meaningful to put face and service together. Make sure your employees know that customer loyalty helps pay their salaries.
  • Keep them surprised and guessing! Think outside the usual seasonal and business cycle calendar. Hit them with a deal they weren’t expecting, an unexpected sale, or an email only discount. Take advantages of those slow times of the year to bring people back though social media and Groupon sort of discounts. Tie a deal to a referral or a customer anniversary. Surprise customer engaged employees, too; handout good service cash certificates, but do it sparingly and with some ceremony.
  • Build a better mousetrap! To build customer interest in and employee support for a new product or service, structure their early involvement. Invite them to collaborate in the design, development, and delivery of a new product or service. Lay it out early what can or could go wrong, and seek input on quality improvement and service response. Give them a discount for their assistance and secure a partner for life.
  • Under-promise and over-deliver! Keep and meet your deadlines. Structure your business to around delivery. Delivery built southwest Airlines, FedEx, and Amazon. This model makes a promise, meets its promised deadline, and keeps customers current on the process. They also hold their suppliers and vendors accountable for their part of the process. Maximize email, phones, and video conferencing in a scheduled structured strategy that communicates and engages.

Finally, be prepared to make it right when service fails. If you have built your business well, you can keep customers even when things go wrong. But, if they have bought into your culture, refunds are not enough. Make the mistake right and throw in a spiff, such as a gift or additional service. Whether you are selling coffee, books, or marketing advice, you have something the customer wants and needs. It’s part of what builds customer loyalty. It’s your job to make that multi-dimensional.

by Steven Schlagel