How do small businesses solve the returning-customer puzzle? Generally speaking, companies focus a great deal more time, effort, and expense on attracting new customers, but in terms of consistent sales and reliable avenues of revenue generation, nothing beats a customer who regularly buys from you. But to encourage repeat business, you’ll need to have a strategy.
Here are five suggestions for converting one-time customers into repeat business:
1. Make Customer Service a Priority
Some businesses pay lip-service to customer service, while others make occasional efforts to refine the way they interact with their target audience. Many of the most successful small businesses align several aspects of business operations to revolve around the needs of their customers. They outline specific principles in their mission statement and employee handbook. They establish internal systems that support front-line employees to deal with virtually any type of customer-interaction situation (often empowering employees to make on-the-spot decisions, rather than passing along customer inquiries and complaints elsewhere). They measure the results of their customer service strategies and reward employees who excel in this area. In other words, they deliver customer service with a visible passion and commitment.
Quality customer service is often perceived as a hit-and-miss proposition, so customers will likely notice and wholeheartedly support this type of commitment.
2. Survey Your Repeat Customers
You may not fully understand why someone chooses to do repeat business with your company. Consider distributing a quick, easy-to-complete survey to these valued customers, seeking details on why they choose to keep coming back, what they like about your business, what areas might be worth improving, and any other thoughts they might have. Be sure the format you choose for the survey (email, website, social media) makes it convenient for them to respond. (Offering a discount on their next purchase is a good incentive to do so.)
Needless to say, where customer feedback results in actionable steps you can take to improve service, implement these strategies and let customers know that you're acting on their input.
3. Highlight Customers in Your Communications
Customers often need to be politely reminded that your business exists. You can distribute an email newsletter that's short on self-promotion but long on customer satisfaction news and features. Or, you could interview a loyal customer and feature him or her on your website, in your newsletter, and in other promotional materials. "Everyone likes a little attention paid to them or their cause," notes marketing specialist Kathy McGovern. "If you've got a customer raising funds for a charity, offer to put a flyer in your window, sponsor their cause, tweet about it, or mention it in one of your blog posts." It's a great way to attract attention and enhance customer engagement.
4. Say "Thank You" and Stay in Touch
It's not always practical, but some business owners commit to replying to every email and call they receive. A brief, personalized response (even when no specific business issue or concern is involved) speaks volumes about the value you place on staying in touch with both customers and the people in your professional network. Another approach is having an automated "thank you" message appear with every product fulfillment or in a separate, follow-up email. Just be careful to word this message in a way that avoids coming off as generic or insincere.
5. Share Tips, Insights, and Information you Find Online
Customers who receive informative updates and insights from a business tend to return when the time is right. In your social media activity, generously share helpful "how-to" articles and videos you come across. (You can do the same in your personalized messages.) When you share content that solves a customer's pressing problems—without a pushy sales message—you can build tremendous goodwill for future interactions.
Making every new customer's first interaction with your business pleasant and helpful can be a great way to begin a new relationship. Proactively reaching out to these same people afterward can greatly increase the odds that they’ll become regular customers.