Building a base of loyal customers is one of the most important tasks a small business should have on their to-do list. A small business can’t compete with a large one on price or logistics, but it can compete with any large company r by focusing on building customer loyalty.
Loyal customers will make sure to return to your business (even if it's inconvenient), they will happily share with others how much they love your business and they'll stick with you, even during tough times.
Building customer loyalty has lots of different elements, from adding personal touches to encouraging feedback, but I have three suggestions below that can help you build a business customers love to love.
Focus on why they need something, not what they need
The thing is - customers sometimes don’t really know what they’re asking for - especially if they’re dealing with an industry that they aren’t familiar with (like the legal system or finance).
Working out what a customer really needs means paying attention to them and listening to what’s underneath the question they’re asking.
If that sounds like nonsense, I have a story to share that might help illustrate this point. A customer in my current day job was calling to request a letter confirming something that had happened over a decade ago. We no longer have access to documents that old. On the top level, it’s a simple case of telling the customer that we can’t access such an old document and apologise.
That’s not the point though - they were calling us because they couldn’t remember what had happened in this interaction. Saying that we don’t have any kind of access to that document does nothing to reassure them about their memory of the event. They were worried about what had happened.
So - I did say we couldn’t send that letter any longer, and I instead offered that we send a new letter that confirmed exactly what happened ten years ago. It’s not what they were asking for, but it’s what they needed to calm their worry.
So how do you build the ability to understand what a customer really needs?
Firstly, you should always look at “why” someone is asking for something. Why was that customer asking for the letter from a decade ago? They couldn’t remember what had happened and they were worried something had happened that they hadn’t asked for.
Second, answer their question from the why, not the what. This might mean giving them something different than what they said they wanted but ultimately addresses their real need.
Work out your values - and share them
Fun fact - people actually aren’t that loyal to your company. What they ARE loyal to are your beliefs and values. If you want your customers to be loyal to you, work out what your values are.
For example; Thank You wants to eradicate poverty in our lifetime. Putting that value front and centre has allowed them to build a community that has petitioned to have their products in the major supermarkets, helped over 700,000 people around the world and crowd-sourced enough funds to launch a baby care range and expand into New Zealand.
I know I don’t buy Thank You products because they’re the best on the market (though don’t get me wrong - they are really good) but because I know that every time I buy something from them I’m helping them to provide fresh water and sanitation to people all around the world.
In addition; their body care range is free from nasty toxins because it would be contradictory to their values to sell a product that supports sanitation throughout the world if their product was helping to pollute the planet. There’s no point eradicating poverty in a world in serious environmental trouble.
Make it easy to solve the problem
One of the biggest factors that influence the customer experience is how easy it is to resolve an issue. Although it might seem counter intuitive, allowing customers to help themselves is a great way to build loyalty. It’s far more important that they can find the answer easily, less important that your directly give them that answer.
This means making your website easy to navigate and useful. It means regularly updating FAQ pages with new questions as they come up. It means creating a blog, or a podcast, or a series of videos to help your customer. It means building informative returns and refunds policies that can easily be found.
It also means making it simple for someone to get in touch. Again, it might seem counter-intuitive but having fewer methods of contact can be very helpful, for you and your customers. As a small business, it’s going to be easier to keep up with one method of communication (be it email, a Facebook page or social media) than to offer every single method possible.