4 ways to build customer loyalty for the long-term

1st Dec 2016

A few weeks ago, I had occasion to visit the emergency room – nothing serious. I had cut my hand and needed a couple of stitches. Here is the amazing part about it, however. The next day, I received a call from that hospital asking me how I was doing. What? Hospitals do this?

As I thought about that experience, it became clear that, no matter what our business, no matter how essential our products or services are, we all need to be aware that this highly competitive environment means that customers/clients have plenty of opportunity to go elsewhere to have their needs met. And we also know that it costs more to gain new customers than it does to retain existing ones.

Being More than a Mere Vendor

The traditional customer-vendor relationship was one of providing a product or service, advertising it, selling it to someone, and that celebrating that sale as a piece of additional revenue and profit. Little thought was given to follow-up, to anticipating that customers’ further needs, and to adding more value to that customer experience. Obviously, all of that has changed.

Today, a customer wants an experience, not just a product or service purchase. And if we want those customers over the long-term, we will provide those experiences that make them feel good about us and that will make them come back.

The Customer’s Viewpoint

The one overriding factor in building brand loyalty is to see every situation from the customer’s vantage point rather than our own. If we do this, we will garner their trust and their loyalty. Here are 4 ways to develop those relationships that will build long-lasting loyalty.

Engage Customers During and After their Purchasing Decision Processes

Customers do want to be asked how they can better be served; they do want to provide feedback on how you are doing. When you engage them by asking for feedback, by asking how they can be better served, they come to believe that their voice matters, that they are more than just a sale to you. If you can be proactive and ask for this feedback, chances are you will reduce the negative “press” you get on social media and elsewhere when a customer has an issue.

Make certain that your customers have an avenue to express their unhappiness – if they can vent to you, and have their issues resolved quickly and efficiently, they are less likely to “vent” to others. Give them multiple ways to do this – calls, emails, live chat if you have a website – and have the support staff you need to respond immediately.

In short: You want to be the first and last call they make.

Every Customer is the Most Important Person to You

Signet Apartments in Cambridge is probably one of the best examples of this principle. This is a short- and long-term residential facility that serves tourists as well as business customers. Whether someone is staying for a day or a month, each individual is treated as the most valuable person at the moment. If a guest needs special accommodations during their stay, these will be provided; if a guest has transportation issues, they will be resolved; any special requests are handled immediately. This company clearly has customer satisfaction down to a science – so much so, in fact, that it has received a 5-star rating by the British Tourist Board and a Gold Award for “exceptional quality of accommodation and customer service.” This status did not come easily. It came through efforts to see each guest as an individual.

The lesson here: You must think in terms of individuals, not just numbers.

Reward Your Customers

Adopting several layers of rewards is your method of showing customers you appreciate them. Even a first-time customer want to feel important and valued. And your long-term customers need the same feeling. You can have several layers of rewards that are progressively more valuable the longer a customer stays with you.

Communicate When it isn’t Necessary

Whether you have a brick and mortar business or are an online e-retailer, you must find ways to gather contact information for your customers.  Email is still a powerful tool. If you can get an email address, then you can conduct some great relationship-building even when a customer is not currently in your sales funnel. Holidays, for example, are a great time to just shoot an email out wishing your customers the best. They get the impression that you are thinking about them even when they are not considering a purchase.

Building relationships isn’t an exact science. It is an ongoing effort to find new ways to reach out to customers, to proactively engage them, to respond immediately to their needs and issues, and to provide highly personal communication with and experiences for them.  The thing to remember is this: relationships can always be improved. For me? I have options for three hospital emergency rooms to use in my area. Guess which one I will choose next time?

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