Making Customer Loyalty a Priority and How You Can Achieve It On a Budget

Unless you have 100% customer satisfaction… you must improve.
-Horst Schulz

It’s so easy these days to switch from brand to brand de­pending on what’s trending on Twitter, which deals catch your eye on Facebook, or what shiny new product or ser­vice your friends are using. If you’re a big company, you can afford to go along with your customers’ fleeting preferences.

But that doesn’t mean small businesses should throw in the towel. On the contrary! In fact, as a small business, customer loyalty and retention could be your greatest weapon against the big guys.

True, many small businesses don’t have the time or the resources to fully dedicate their attention to each and every customer. After all, you’ve got a million hats to wear. But even if you just implement one basic customer loyalty pro­gram or initiative, it could reel in big returns.

Here at my online marketing software company, Vertical-Response, we do several things to increase customer loyal­ty without costing us a lot of money. In fact, the majority of our business comes from happy customers who use our marketing tools and refer us to their friends and colleagues. We nurture those relationships with award-winning cus­tomer service and by offering awesome discounts only to existing customers. We have a great refer-a-friend program where our current customers can pocket some cash for get­ting their colleagues to sign up with us. And we offer free ex­clusive content and tips to help them grow their business via a weekly email newsletter, webinars, shareable infographics and more. These are all things that any small business can do without spending an arm and a leg.

So, where do you start?

Here are five ways to fire up your customers and get them coming back for more, followed by five easy ideas on how to implement a loyalty program on a budget. Finally, check out some cool, affordable tools that can make launching and maintaining that program or initiative a whole lot easier.

5 Ways to Build a Loyal Customer Base

1. Engage Online

Back in the day, if you wanted to reach your customers you had to either call them or send a mailing. Now that ev­eryone’s connected online, getting in touch with your cus­tomers has never been easier. Email marketing and social media are great for establishing customer relationships and loyalty because the people who signed up for your emails or who follow you on social media have essentially raised their hands and said, “Yes, I want to hear from you.” All you have to do is make sure you’re giving them stuff that’s relevant, actionable and engaging – whether it’s a promotion, sneak peek, news, a tip or even a funny (but relevant) picture you snapped on your way to work.

2. Develop a Real Relationship

Use every customer touchpoint – whether it’s in your lo­cation, on the phone or via email – as an opportunity to es­tablish a personal and human connection with your custom­ers. Make sure your online presence reflects your personal­ity. Keep your social media followers and email subscribers updated on improvements you’re making within your busi­ness. Don’t just be another com­pany; be a face, a voice and a per­sonality that shines through.

3. Provide Perks

Sure, your customers may buy a product from you or use your service, but that doesn’t mean you can’t give them more. Sur­prise and excite them! Whether it’s free products or services, a bonus for referring a friend or colleague, or discounts for buying from you again, give them something special they can take away from being a customer at your business.

4. Be a Resource

Start a company blog that posts weekly news about your brand’s field of expertise, such as technology news if you’re an IT company or a weekly list of best-selling books if you’re an independent book publisher. Post useful tips to your Facebook timeline gained from your own expertise in the field. This will create your brand as a resourceful base for customers to gain knowledge from or to improve their skills. They will not only return when they’re ready to spend mon­ey, but they’ll tell their friends about you and your business.

5. Deliver Superb Customer Service

If you want to succeed, customer service is something you must embrace. Be respectful and understanding, especially if you’ve got a difficult situation to handle. Just remember that if it weren’t for your customers, you wouldn’t have a business. Keep that in mind, and chances are you’ll succeed at creating a brand that people will continue using – and will tell their friends to use, too!

5 Budget-Friendly Customer Loyalty Programs

1. Get Social on Social Media

A great way to keep customers coming back is to make sure they know you’re on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and/ or LinkedIn, and that you have something cool to offer if they follow you. Include links to your social media profiles on your website, blog, email newsletters and in your email signature. On Facebook, you could start a “customer loyal­ty” secret group and only invite customers who want to join your customer loyalty program. (Note that only individuals can create a group, not companies – so either you or some­one else at your company needs to start this group. Also, you can only invite people you’re already connected with on Facebook.) In this group you could post member-only deals, discounts and free offerings.

2. Stay in Touch with Email

Email marketing is one of the most effective marketing tools today. Start a list of subscribers who want to be a part of your customer loyalty program. You can send exclusive weekly or monthly offers and give them an inside look at new products or services before other customers. Get cre­ative! There are endless ways to engage a customer, so don’t be afraid to think outside the box.

3. Incentivize Your Employees

Give your employees a reason to retain customers. Start a monthly program that tracks customer retention and cus­tomer service, and offer fun and inexpensive ways for em­ployees to earn rewards for excelling. Some of these rewards may be earning a paid day off, a free lunch at their restaurant of choice, a gift card, etc.

4. Put a Face to the Name

Organize a monthly happy hour and invite your loyal cus­tomers out for a meet-and-greet; paying for a few hours of open bar shouldn’t break the bank. (Put a limit on how many free drinks per attendee, if you need to.) If you’re a company that offers services or products in a certain geographical area or have a small business operating locally, organizing and hosting a mixer is an excellent way for you and your team to meet customers and clients on a friendly level. It’s also a re­laxed way for you to talk about your products and hopefully create lasting relationships.

5. Feature Your Best Customers

Highlight your best, most loyal customers by putting them on your website and giving them a shout-out on your social media profiles. Write a case study, or feature their quotes or pictures on your site. Include them in press releases. Chanc­es are, they’ll love the extra publicity and it shows you really appreciate their business. Plus, with any luck, they’ll share their “five seconds of fame” with their friends and networks, which means more exposure for your company!

3 Tools to Help You Become a Customer Loyalty

Rock Star

VerticalResponse

With VerticalResponse (disclosure: This is my company!), you can create, manage and analyze both your email mar­keting and social media campaigns through one dashboard. Track engagement, such as open rates on your email cam­paigns, what readers clicked on, how many people re-posted or re-tweeted your content, and more. You also can create, schedule and publish your social media content up to four weeks in advance – great for folks who don’t have hours ev­ery day to spend on Facebook!

Fanplayr

Fanplayr is a great tool for easily generating online gami­fied coupons so your customers “win.” The more they play, the better the offer will be. You can choose from a library of game types and customize it by adding your own branding. If customers post their game play to their social networks, they get additional incentives. You can also integrate game campaigns across multiple channels, such as social media, email campaigns, website, your online store, and more. Pret­ty cool!

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.    Charles Darwin

Needle

Needle is awesome technology for crowdsourced custom­er service with the goal of generating more sales. Essentially, it puts your existing customer base – those who’ve used and know your product or service firsthand and are avid fans – to work as active brand advocates. They answer questions online, participate in live chats, etc. If you’re running an e-commerce business that relies on online reviews and inter­actions for word of mouth, you might want to give Needle a test drive.

In short: Give customers a great experience or a reason to keep coming back, and they probably will. Not only that, but you’ll have an army of advocates who are going to tell other people about you, too, which means more customers through the door!

Janine Popick is the CEO and founder of VerticalResponse (www. verticalresponse.com), a provider of self-service email, social and event marketing solutions for small businesses. Connect with her on Twitter at @janinepopick.

Excerpted from the book, Customer Loyalty, edited by Justin Sachs, published by Motivational Press, www.MotivationalPress.com. Used with permission.