You have likely heard the old maxim,: “it takes six times more money to create a new customer than it does to keep an old one.” And it’s true. Loyal customers are the bread and butter of your business; they are the reason you get to stay in business. Indeed, one consistent thing I have seen over the years is that the best small business people work hard to foster customer loyalty because they know that, like a good politician, their base is critical to their success.


So what works, and what do your peers do that you can emulate? Here are a dozen ideas that have stood the test of time:


1. Find out what your customers like and need: Of course, you know that you need to do your job for your customers exceptionally well if you want them to stick around, that is a given. But what really creates customer loyalty is to take that step further: Speak with your clients and find out what their needs are and whether there is anything extra you can do to fulfill those needs. It is that personal touch (as you will see throughout this list) that can make all the difference.


2. Return phone calls, emails, and texts promptly: Yes, it is so easy for a customer or potential customer to get in touch with you these days that it can sometimes be a pain, but customer service superstars see it as an incredible opportunity. Promptly replying to an inquiry (within 24 hours should be the benchmark) sends the signal that you are on it and that you care.


3. Be reliable: Customers frequent your business because they need something you provide. If you provide it consistently and reliably, they will be loyal customers. If you don’t, they won’t.


4. Help, don’t sell: One of the reasons customers become brand advocates is when they trust that you have their best interests at heart. Helping a customer is more important than making the sale. When a customer comes to you with a need, help them solve that problem, whether or not that means buying your solution.


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5. Recommend your competition: To really create customer loyalty, when appropriate, let them know if someone else might better serve their interests on a particular issue. Personally, I find that my most loyal customers are those with whom I have recommended my “competition” on occasion. When that happens, I really am helping and not selling.


6. Under-promise and over-deliver. Most clichés are clichés for a reason, like this one. A tried-and-true way to impress customers and get them to stick around is by doing more than you were asked, more than you promised, and more than is called for in the contract.


7. Be a conduit of information: When you see an article that makes you think of a certain customer, pass it along. Recommend a book, movie, product, or video. Clip something out of a magazine and send it to them (snail mail will really get their attention!)


Your e-newsletter and social media posts can and should also be a resource of information for customers.


8. Remember them: Don’t just contact your customer when you want them to re-order, instead, stay in regular contact. You can send birthday and holiday cards, or a thank you note, gift cards, whatever it may be, this lets them know you appreciate them.


9. Reward great customers: Another way to make customers feel special is by giving them something that the general public does not have access to. This can be a special sale for regular customers only, a discount coupon available to them only, or a customer appreciation day.


10. Remember the golden rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” should be the mantra of anyone looking to create long-term customer loyalty.


11. Empower individual employees to solve problems: When something isn’t right at some restaurants, servers don’t need to go to a manager to fix it. They have the ability – on the spot – to offer free food or whatever is needed to make someone happy. Similarly, at some manufacturing companies, customer service employees can swap out products, offer refunds, provide free consulting, or send out free batteries.


Customers really appreciate this sort of thing.


12: Make it impossible for them to leave: The bottom line is that customers become loyal when your business shows its appreciation for them, and does its job so well, that they would be foolish to go anywhere else.


About Steve Strauss

Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest,The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss.

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