Customer loyalty is something that everyone talks about. Big companies try to foster it with programs and cards, cash back, points and better deals. People join “rewards programs” in droves. But there’s one thing that big companies will never truly be able to do; build a relationship with you personally. And the reason is they’re too big and too disconnected from the individual customer. As a micro business, being close to your customers is a major advantage.
When I was living in Waltham, MA there were at least a dozen pizza shops within a five mile radius. I had my pick of all kinds and types, but one night I called a local one down the street. When I went in, the owner was working the oven; my pizza was still being cooked. Rather than watch a TV or doing something else, the owner struck up a conversation with me while I waited. He explained how long he had been in business, which family members were working for him and asked where I lived, how I liked the town. When my pizza was done I paid and walked out. The pizza was good, but the owner was what stuck with me. I wanted to give him my business and support him and his family. He was working at 8 p.m. on a Wednesday night and had been there all day. He cared about his shop and his product. That resonated with me. As a result, I can honestly say that in two years I never went to another pizza place.
Loyalty is an easy thing to talk about, but it’s difficult to build. But there’s a lesson in the pizza owner’s story. Because he was willing to engage with me, let me into his world and talk to me as if I were a friend and not a customer, he never had to worry about me straying from his shop. He treated me well and I never forgot that. More than likely, he was jsut being himself. But whether he realized it or not, he was great at building relationships.
Because micro businesses have a small group of customers (typically less than 40), you should be great at it too. Building a relationship means being involved, asking how someone is doing and what they have going on in their lives, even sharing your own stories. Personal connections are a two way street, you can’t always expect someone else to do all the work. If you’re a business you can let customers know you’re genuinely interested in them and want to do what you can to help.
But as a marketer, you can build personal connections with your customers through your marketing efforts. You are probably wondering how that is possible. The answer is simple: share what’s going on in your business life. Have you ever thought about sending out a monthly newsletter to talk about what’s been going on in your business, how things have been progressing and what you have coming up? Do you think your customers know that you’re a family owned business? Did you just announce a new employee or add something to your location? That’s something you can include. A newsletter doesn’t have to be salesy, it can just have some interesting content about you and your business. If you make it real, more people will connect with you and ultimately be more loyal to you. They will also be more willing to refer you to others, funneling more business to you knowing that you’re truly invested in doing right by your customers.
Social media makes it easier for you to connect with your customers, because they are all congregated in one area and you can talk to them directly. But that’s not to say you can’t connect with customers if you don’t use social media. Newsletters via email or direct mail, surveys and even offers with postcards for a specific few loyal customers can show that you care, show that you’re interested in them and most importantly, you’re still open for business.
If you do it well, you might have a customer for life or like the pizza shop in Waltham, one that comes in every other week for two years straight.
How do you foster loyalty? Do you work to build relationships with customers? What has worked and what hasn’t?