Creating Loyal Customers

Years ago, it was possible to beat your competition simply by delivering a better product.  But in today’s competitive marketplace, almost everyone has a product that is “satisfactory”.  If they don’t, they won’t be in business for very long.  Today’s consumer understands value and expects to receive what they paid for, so it is no longer enough to just create a “satisfactory product.

So, how do you get that leg up on your competition in today’s market? The answer is know your customers, not just as companies that buy from you, but as people and individuals.  Loyal customers are the lifeblood of our businesses.  They are the key to creating a long-term competitive advantage.

How do you create that customer loyalty? Business relationships don’t start out “great”.  Just as a small seedling must be nurtured, watered, and cared for, so must loyal customers.  Customer relationships go through predictable steps.  New relationships are just that.  They may be one-time buyers until trust is built.

And this is not one-sided.  Loyalty and trust must be built on both sides as each proves itself to the other.  As the relationship strengthens, each party is more committed to continuing that relationship.  Over time, as long as it is a win-win situation for both parties with both perceiving value in the relationship, it can be built into a “Great” relationship.  It is these great relationships that produce your referrals and fans.

A customer’s decision to continue working with you and your business is a result of their loyalty to you. And that loyalty only comes through relationship building.  People don’t deal with a company.  People deal with people.  This is just as possible with distant internet customers as with local ones.

If all you create is satisfied customers, they will leave you.  Loyal customers will not.

So how do you build the relationships that will create these loyal customers?

Have a human voice answer your telephone.

Make any text on your website, in your newsletter, or in your letters sound like they are are written by a real person.

Use photographs of you and the people involved in your business.

Have testimonials from real people, using their real names and where they are located.

Include case studies that describe real results from use of your products.

Be consistent.  Send out newsletters on a regular basis.  Call occasionally.  Even send a small token gift just to remind them that they are in your thoughts.

Be more than responsive — be super-responsive.  Answer emails and voice mails as quickly as possible.

Samples of your products are great ways to show them that you produce a quality product, not just a satisfactory one.

Creating loyal customers takes much more work than just filling orders with a satisfactory product.  But loyal customers are the backbone of a successful business and are worth their weight in gold.

An Entrepreneurial Lesson Learned

I live in Flagstaff Arizona.  This past week is one that will be remembered and talked about for years by those of us living here.  This week’s monster set of back-to-back snowstorms will go down in history as either the second or third largest snowstorm since 1900.  With about 54″  (that’s four and 1/2 feet) of snow build-up, Flagstaff has seen collapsing roofs, hurt backs, and closure of all entries into and out of Flagstaff including the airport. 

In addition to getting more exercise than I ever wanted shoveling our way out the door to the street, this storm has taught me some entrepreneurial lessons that I’d like to share.

1.  Take it one step at a time

Shoveling snow, particularly when rain turns it to ice, is not easy.  As a matter of fact, it is back-breaking work as many of you who live in snow country well know.  But, to get the job done, you have to take it one shovel load at a time.  The same is true when growing your business.  You start with big dreams and giant goals but to accomplish those dreams and goals, you must take it one step at a time.

2.  Eliminate the potential disasters.  A lot of roofs caved in and others leaked.  Both could have been avoided by shoveling the snow and ice from the roofs before the ice dams formed.  When you see the potential for problems in your business, don’t put off a resolution.  Take care of it before the disaster hits!

3.  The right tools and resources can make a big difference.  Shoveling snow takes the right tools.  A snow shovel removes the fluffy stuff but a steel shovel makes ice removal so much easier.  And having chains that you can put on your tires when the road gets icy sure makes getting home a whole lot easier. 

3.  Take time to appreciate and enjoy the beauty.  Even with the hard work of shoveling all this snow, taking a break and enjoying the beauty (and it is beautiful!) makes the work easier.

4.  Accentuate the positive and remember that the negative could be worse.  We could have had seven feet of snow as Flagstaff had back in the 1960’s.  It could have been worse!  And the positive is that we shouldn’t have a drought this summer!