Small Business by C. Norman Beckert: Loyalty comes from making commitments to customers

Idaho district director for SCORE, the Service Corps of Retired ExecutivesJuly 23, 2013 

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C. Norman Beckert

  • SCORE CAN HELP

    SCORE offers no-cost counseling for people considering starting a business or seeking mentoring for an existing one. Reach Bev Bean at 334-1696, or tvscore240@ yahoo.com.

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 feel tempted to do the same thing to hold on to your customers, even if it puts the stability of your business at risk. Once you’ve gone down in price, it takes a long time to recover. Further, other customers may learn of your price reduction and will expect the same.

To sustain your reputation, you owe a consistent pricing policy to all of your customers. Though cost is important to customers, it is but 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, no matter 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 relationships with their customers. They focus not just on selling to customers but on 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. You need a strategy that keeps patrons coming back.

Start with basics that are sometimes overlooked. Thanking customers for their business goes a long way. But try going beyond a few spoken words. Write some thank-you notes and letters. Make them personal and sincere. Just let them know you appreciate their business. (And when addressing customers for whatever reason, address them by name — not as “Dear Valued Customer”.)

Creating value will help boost loyalty. Ask customers if there is anything else you could be doing for them, and after they tell you, do it.

Better yet, suggest some additional services that could improve their business or provide a solution to a nagging problem.

You should consider it unacceptable when a customer leaves and doesn’t return. Find out what happened and why, and work to prevent it from happening again. An apology and your personal commitment to rectify the issue may provide you another chance.

Remember, too, that your customers’ needs are always changing. They may find attributes or “extras” in other businesses that put your service elements at a disadvantage. Consider ease of access, for example. Make sure all your touch points— your phones, website, store layout, personal assistance — operate with your customers’ needs in mind. Not answering your phone or not returning a call promptly is often the reason a customer will shift business to a competitor.

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, they’ll keep coming back for more.

tvscore@yahoo.com

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