How many of your customers will go out of their way to tell others about how fantastic your business is? It’s most likely a small percentage of your customers but they can be powerful marketers for you if you will cultivate them and keep them informed.
On the other hand, you can diminish, or destroy their loyalty to you by making either of two mistakes.
First, ignore them. When they give you feedback by phone, letter, or e-mail, and you fail to acknowledge it in a personal way, they’re going to feel slighted, and rightly so. Recently, I published an open letter to Cavenders Western Wear with what I thought was a suggestion that could improve the customer service experience and make them money at the same time. I sent them a link to the blog post and received an automated reply. Since then, I’ve heard nothing. Guess what? In about one month we’re going to be buying blue jeans for both my sons to wear as they go back to school. Since Cavenders doesn’t think my feedback is important, I’m just as inclined to shop at Sheplers, Kohl’s or somewhere else.
On the other hand, they could have sent me a brief e-mail and kept me as a loyal customer. (Sorry, auto replies don’t count.)
Another way to lose your best customers is to treat them no differently than any other customer. You can provide me with special treatment by giving me advanced notice of sales, by creating loyalty programs as American Express and all of the airlines do, and by giving me special treatment. We’ve used the same dog kennels to board our dogs for years. Because we were long-time customers, today they went out of their way to accommodate us at the last minute.
Small businesses may not be able to create complex loyalty programs like the airlines. But simpler versions have been around forever (“Buy five, get the sixth one free). You can also provide personal service that can beat what the big box folks offer.
Listen to your customers, then respond, even when they make inane suggestions. Show them that you care about them and they will return the favor. Cultivate them with small favors and you’ll find they spread the word about you to their friends and family.