Business management

Five ways to build customer loyalty

Opinions can now be shared at the swipe of a screen, so small businesses must prioritise the customer experience.

But how can SMEs compete with the big players? Natasha Hassani, managing director of Neon Rocks PR, which advises SMEs on customer loyalty, says: “The most important thing an SME can do to build customer loyalty is to ‘act properly’. This means being transparent in their marketing efforts, upholding excellent customer service and providing quality products and services.”

Nigel Greenwood, founder of Simply Customer, which helps businesses to look through their customers’ eyes so they understand how they are perceived, says people are attracted to brands initially through advertising, the telling of a story, peer pressure and word of mouth.

He adds: “After that initial attraction, there are six key elements to good or great customer experience – make it easy, set my expectations, keep your promises, treat me as an individual, communicate with me and put it right if it goes wrong.”

And, Dax Dasilva, CEO of commerce solutions firm Lightspeed, warns that it’s far more costly to acquire a new customer than it is to retain one: “Not only do loyal customers spend more, but they’re more likely to refer your business to someone else.”

Here are five ways to attract – and keep – your customers.

1. Provide excellent customer service

William Forshaw, CEO of Maxwell Scott Bags, strongly believes in providing exceptional customer service.

“We communicate with our customers directly and on a personal level, and are always on hand to assist them in whatever way possible,” he says. “Even when we receive complaints, we endeavour in every way possible to offer the customer a positive overall experience, so that they walk away happy and return to us in future,” he says.

Similarly, honesty is a priority for Hayes Garden World. Lyndan Orvis, e-commerce manager, says: “If you know there is going to be a wait or a back order on a product, let customers know, don’t leave them guessing. Customer service is incredibly important to building brand loyalty.”

Helen Glover, communications manager at The Institute of Customer Service, says: “The principles of good customer service are the same, irrespective of the size or nature of the business.”

2. Promote brand values

Alana Spencer, winner of last year’s series of The Apprentice, and founder of cake company Ridiculously Rich, admits she was concerned about retaining her core customers as demand grew. To address this, she set up a network of ambassadors to sell and promote her cakes – and values.

She says: “Having that personal feel to a business makes it easier to create customer loyalty as they feel emotionally invested in your business. That’s why I feel my brand ambassadors are so important to my business. They are my eyes and ears on the ground, passing feedback, good and bad, to me to enable me to keep my customers happy time after time.”

The principles of good customer service are the same, irrespective of the size or nature of the business

Helen Glover
Communications manager for The Institute of Customer Service

Similarly, William Forshaw’s staff are trained in the firm’s brand values, with their approach tailored to specific markets. “For our biggest global markets, we employ staff who are fully appreciative of the needs of those specific customers, are native speakers of those languages and understand those cultures on a personal level,” he says.

3. Go the extra mile

Liz Jones of Love Sussex Weddings, which matches wedding venues to couples planning nuptials, says helpfulness breeds loyalty.

“Keep listening to your customers to find out what their pain points are and keep looking at how your business can help ease or fix these problems – then communicate this to your customers and potential customers effectively,” she says. “Smaller businesses are able to move quickly and be more agile and responsive.”

As for complaints, Greenwood says they are an opportunity to build loyalty. Research shows that, typically, only four of every 100 unhappy customers will give feedback. He says: “Listen to the customer, empathise, restate the complaint to confirm you understand it fully, then take whatever action is necessary to put the customer in the position they would have been in if they had not needed to complain.”

4. Reward loyalty

Martin Bradfield, head of planning and insight at CRM consultancy Blueberry Wave, advises SMEs to reward customers in a meaningful way that eclipses competitors.

He says: “For many smaller businesses, where the personal touch and word of mouth is key, programmes that generate a buzz such as ‘surprise and delight’ rewards are a great way of generating advocacy among customers.

“These schemes are generally invisible – the organisation keeps an eye on, for example, spend, and provides costed rewards related to that spend. This may range from a bouquet of flowers to a complimentary service or product – naturally the reward is geared towards the type of customer.”

But, he warns: “It won’t paper any cracks that exist in customer service, product or service performance or pricing.”

5. Exploit the internet

Chocolate Clothing’s sales and marketing manager, Aaron Bassi, says social media provides an instant line of communication with customers, enabling a company to create a community around a brand: “This is a huge part of the modern shopping experience for many consumers, as feeling a part of a community of like-minded people while gaining a more personal shopping experience is what many millennial shoppers now look for.”

Hassani concurs, and recommends that SMEs play up their size as a bonus. “Consumers generally like to support local businesses and independent brands,” she says. “There are specific hashtags you can use that will build a following on Instagram such as #madeinbritain, #independentbrand or #makersmovements.

“Also, give your review tool presence on your website and remind customers on social media that they are able to review you. Always reply to reviews and give specific feedback wherever possible.”

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