Tips for Developing and Tracking Customer Loyalty

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As business owners, loyal customers are what we want — and we want more of them. So, let’s break down what creates customer loyalty and find out how we measure up.

We need to find a way to keep track of our customers and create a database. A database is your customer base and your sphere of influence — all of your future or prospective customers. Your database should be able to separate customers into groups, such as prospective customers, family and friends, networking contacts … you get the idea.

But why is this so important? Your database is the foundation of your company. It is made up of people that know you and your product or service best. These people are happy to hear from you, and when they do hear from you in whatever form of marketing you choose, it tells them that you care about them and the fact that they spend money in your business.

The benefit for you is that you are creating customer loyalty by staying “top of mind.” When you find a creative, personal way of staying in touch with your customers, they will become more loyal, they will refer more, and they will stay with your business as opposed to the competition.

The next step involves customer service. If you have great marketing but your customer service is less than excellent, you will not achieve your desired results. This topic deserves its own article, but let’s cover some critical points.

How easy you to reach are you, and can your customers or others easily reach you? Despite all the communication technology available to modern businesses — e-mail, smartphones, social networking, etc. — it’s astounding how difficult it can be to reach a company. If you want to differentiate yourself, having a real person answer the phone on the first ring might be the place to start! All jokes aside, we are responsible for our company’s communication. Answer the phone and return calls, reply to e-mail within 24 hours, and respond to direct messages on social media in a timely fashion.

If customers or associates do not hear from you in 24 hours, it means you do not feel they are important enough to respond to or you are too busy to respond. Both reflect poorly on your business.

Check your phone messages and your sent e-mails — do they match your company values? Communication will be key to your customer loyalty.

Customer loyalty depends on what happens at the time of service. We need to be prompt, attentive, and sincere — and we need to listen, listen, listen. We need to say “thank you” to those people doing business with us. Never let the opportunity to thank a customer go by.

Staff training can make all the difference. If you don’t have time to train your staff, then send them out for training. Business owners are usually too busy to oversee everything, and poor customer service by your staff can hurt your business. Training staff shows them you are serious about customer service and that you invest in your people and believe they are your greatest asset.

Creating loyalty can be done with customer complaints. Customers are really giving us a second chance when they complain — they want us to fix the problem to their satisfaction. Within reason, this is always the very best way to go. Customers feel great about your business when they complain and you act; this way, everyone achieves a positive outcome.

Tracking where your business is coming from will create customer loyalty if you have a rewards program in place. This rewards program should be individual for your company. If a business acknowledges and thanks a customer for a referral, this is great for business. It creates goodwill and loyalty — and the likelihood that the customer will speak positively of the experience to others.

Special events such as appreciation parties or discount days for seniors are examples of how we can create more customer loyalty. With customer appreciation parties, the return on investment is high.

As invitations go out, a buzz is created. Then, the event itself gets customers talking. Moreover, if you have hired a photographer or a videographer, the buzz will last throughout the year on your website for new customers to see.

If you want to differentiate your business in 2011, implementing these strategies can help create the customer loyalty you’ve always wanted.

Debbie Hartz is the owner and president of Datagirl.ca, a Victoria-based database management and marketing company.