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Mastering customer loyalty

Posted by Jason Keith  September 9, 2011 04:00 AM

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We all have a local business that we frequent.  It’s not a national chain, it’s a town shop run by local people who are clearly working hard to compete. They’re always there, always friendly and they make it a pleasure to buy from them, so much so that you want to keep going back.  The mindset of “staying local” is one many of us have. For me, it was always one specific pizza shop in Waltham. I went in a few times, got to know the owner, and he knew me. He had pizza that was better than any I had tried to that point, but in all honesty, once I got to know him and his shop, I didn’t want to try anyone else. 

Every once in a while he would give me a free pizza, knowing that I was a “regular” and he would always go out of his way to come and greet me when I came in. For two years I only got pizza from that store, and for good reason. It was obvious to me that he took care of his best customers and I was one of them. Why would I go anywhere else?  The only thing that stopped me from sticking with it was moving 20 miles away.  I’m still looking for a pizza place I can give my loyalty to in my new town.     

The moral of the story is that regular customers, or repeat customers, are critical for the success of any business, even if it’s a national franchise chain. So much so that marketing models are built to encourage repeat business. Loyalty cards, memberships, and frequent flier programs are examples of different ways to reward customers who purchase often and encourage them to purchase more. It’s also a way of fostering loyalty and keeping customers from jumping to a competitor.  Depending on whose numbers you go by, acquiring a new customer can be seven times more expensive than keeping a customer you already have.  

So if you’re not focusing on keeping the core customer base you have, especially in a down economy, you should be.  Here are a few tips to ensure that your best customers keep coming back.

Be personal:

Local businesses have a weapon that few national chains will ever master: personality.  The business is theirs and they aren’t slaves to a corporate image or feel.  Local owners can take a few extra minutes to chat with a customer, or essentially, get involved in their lives.  When you take a personal approach, customers feel special.  All small businesses should follow this model. Sometimes a very simple conversation can make all the difference, even if it's just small talk.  

Let them know you value their business:

Showing gratitude as a business is as easy as giving a really good price or a discount to a loyal customer.  If you’re a consultant you could “throw in” some services for free.  A local sandwich shop could give a regular a free sandwich every so often.  You can formalize reward programs as a small business, but that “little extra” can make all the difference.  People are more likely to keep coming back when they are treated a bit differently and know you value them as much as they value you. 

Remind them that you’re ready when they are:

You don’t always see your best customers on a daily basis.  But that doesn’t mean you can’t use your marketing to reach out and let them know that you want to stay in touch with loyal customers.  Create a list of your best customers and market to them differently than you would anyone else.  Let them know that your offer or discount will only apply to them as a way to thank them for their business.  Even if you don’t get their business immediately, you can stay on top of mind and remind them that when they do need you, you’ll be there for them.  Chances are they’ll keep coming back.

How are you working to keep your best customers? Do you focus on them more in a bad economy versus a good one? 

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About this blog

Jason Keith has been working for and with small businesses in the New England area for more than 10 years, specifically small, micro businesses. Born and raised in Massachusetts and a former journalist, he provides a unique perspective on the issues facing small businesses locally and nationally.To reach him directly email jasonpkeith@gmail.com.

This is a personal blog. The opinions expressed here are the author's alone.

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