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Tue, Nov. 19

Loyalty comes from making a commitment to customers

Question: I know that repeat clients are what sustain a business. So how do I keep my customers loyal and coming back for more?

Answer: The competitive nature of today's world may be intimidating to the small business owner. If a competitor cuts prices or offers other incentives, you may be tempted to do the same thing in order to hold on to your customers, even if it puts the stability of your business at risk.

Though cost is important to customers today, it is only one component of a larger, more important attribute - value. If your business provides value through service, responsiveness, and going the "extra mile," your customers will respond with loyalty, regardless of what your competition does.

Building loyalty through value is something small business owners have been good at for centuries because they are better able to cultivate personal relationships with their customers. They focus not just on selling to them, but also keeping them. That stability is more efficient and predictable for everyone involved.

Building loyalty is not a marketing matter, so don't look there for help. To foster customer loyalty, a small business needs a strategy that keeps patrons coming back. It starts with basics that are sometimes overlooked. Thanking customers for their business, for example, goes a long way. But try going beyond a few spoken words. Write some thank you notes or letters. Make them personal and sincere and let your customers know you appreciate their business.

Creating value is the boost that helps insure loyalty. Ask your customers if there is anything else you could be doing for them. Then, after they tell you, do it. When a customer leaves you for a competitor, you should consider it unacceptable. Find out why it happened and then work to prevent it from happening again.

Remember, too, that your customers' needs are always changing, and that they may find attributes or "extras" in other businesses that puts your service elements at a disadvantage. Take ease of access, for example. Make sure all your touch points - your phones, website, store layout, etc. - operates with your customers' needs in mind. Visiting competitors' locations and sites may alert you to areas where you may be behind, and spark ideas for making a good service or process even better. If your customers like what they find at your business, and feel that you genuinely appreciate them, they'll keep coming back for more.

The next session of SCORE's new, six-part Business Plan Workshop series will begin Wednesday, March 10. Cost of the series is $90 for two participants from a single business. For more information or to pre-register, go to www.scorenaz.org or call the SCORE office at 778-7438.

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