Building Customer Loyalty – Tips from the Front lines

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asking customers for testimonials
A popular marketing adage goes like this: it’s easier (and cheaper) to get your current customers to buy from you than it is to go out and get new customers. And not only do our best and most loyal customers tend to regularly buy from us; they also tend to be the best referral network a small business can have.

But how can a small business owner get to this point? What are the best ways to build and nurture customer loyalty?

Below you’ll hear from some real small business owners about their experiences with keeping their customers happy and loyal.

Customer Loyalty Starts with Relationships.
Talk to any successful small business owner, and they will tell you that building customer loyalty starts with building customer relationships. Michael Reifeiss, owner and operator of AALL in Limo & Party Bus in San Diego, couldn’t agree more: “Build relationships before you establish your business. Customers want to know you on a personal level prior to use and trust your service.”

How you go about building these relationships, of course, is up to you. For Reifeiss, he rewards customers (every returning customer gets a free hour of limo service) and promptly answers any questions or issues they have.

For Rodney Washington, a creative business strategist and marketing coach, he builds relationships by being present and listening to customers. He accomplishes this by doing one-on-ones with clients outside of the office every six months.

Washington explains, “These gatherings usually take place over lunch (I host) and the conversation is focused on my listening to their goals and future desires. I also encourage conversation about their lives and that of their family. Learning more about my clients personally helps me to understand what drives them professionally. I find doing this lets my clients know that I care about them (because I do), and because our get-together is outside of a regular business meeting, they open up. I’ve done this since I started my business, and as result, I usually receive referrals and glowing endorsements from my clients.”

Repeat After Us: Build Trust, Trust, Trust.
The foundation of any good relationship is trust. But getting someone to place their trust in you isn’t always easy, especially when it’s between customers and businesses. However, there are steps you can take that will help build trust.

Nellie Akalp is CEO and founder of, an online legal document filing service in California. When it comes to building trust, she says it’s important to think long after you close the deal. She says, “Don’t just have your sales team push the sale. Have them ask questions, get involved and really help the client and provide solutions in addition to the service.”

Akalp says being generous with your resources, even to people who aren’t customers yet, can be a great way of establishing trust and showing you care for people as people, not just as customers. “I find that the more resources and tools we can offer to be generally helpful to clients or prospective clients, the more they stay loyal to us.”

And she says that exceeding client expectations never hurts. “From personally hand-delivering files to those who need them immediately, to referring new entrepreneurs to accountants and other services to get their businesses off the ground, we go the extra mile to be sure each client is set to begin a successful journey as an entrepreneur. By adding this personal one-to-one touch, we feel our clients stay true to our brand over competitors.”

Deborah Sweeney owns, an online business that incorporates and forms LLCs for business owners and entrepreneurs. When it comes to building trust that leads to loyal customers, Sweeney says it’s all in how you communicate with your customer base.

She recommends a three-prong approach:

  1. Communicate with customers—tell them what to expect.
  2. Do what you say you are going to do, but do even better than the customer might expect.
  3. Follow up. Make sure you ask how you did. Fix any problems, and welcome all the compliments—there will be many when you have this approach!

Remember This: The “Little” Things Matter.
Gwynn Lindler is a mobile, in-home personal trainer for women in Cornelius, North Carolina. She says that smaller, thoughtful touches can have a huge impact on your customer base. One strategy she recommends is snail mailing handwritten cards for holidays and client birthdays.

She explains, “Once or twice a year, send hand-written thank you notes in appreciation for their business. I don’t use business stationary for any of my cards, but purchase cards that are special to the client.”

Brittany Jones, media coordinator for Bailar Dancewear, agrees that the little things matter and definitely add up. She says, “One of the coolest and most unique things we do is interview our customers and post about them on our blog. This gives them free exposure, and makes them want to share their experiences with us with their friends and family. We also make sure every step of the process is enjoyable for the customer, including unique packaging. We also will reward people for posting pictures of them[selves] wearing our items on our Facebook wall.”

Get Creative with Customer Loyalty Programs.
When it comes to creating customer loyalty programs, there are so many ways you could go (just do a Google search, and you’ll have endless ideas at your fingertips). Here are some quick-hitting ideas:

Work with other vendors to provide your customers with an “added-value” item or experience that they weren’t expecting. For example, Reifeiss discusses his promotions with wineries and breweries: “We partner up with wineries in Temecula and breweries in San Diego. The wineries and breweries will then give us exclusive coupons to give to our clients. Our clients are happy, and the wineries and breweries are happy with us because we generate lots of business for them.”

Don’t forget that your happiest customers can also be your best referrals. Reward good customers for referring business your way. You can do this through a points program, by giving them a gift, and/or (as Lindler suggests above) by sending a heartfelt, handwritten thank-you note.

Give the best of your very best customers and added dose of attention. Lindler offers another great idea: “There are a couple of clients who trusted me and gave me their business in the startup. For those two, they will always receive a free session for every ten that they purchase. This is not automatically given to any others.”

How about you? Do you have a customer loyalty program? How do you go about building those all-important client relationships? We want to hear from you! Share your thoughts in the comments.

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