How to encourage customers to return

It's very difficult to get the same customers to buy from you repeatedly and consistently - hence why the old business adage that 20% of your customers account for 80% of yours sales rings so true.

You, of course, want more than 20% of your customers returning to your business. A regular customer base helps you forecast sales, target marketing, build on existing relationships by offering new products and services and, crucially, boosts sales. Plus, a happy and loyal customer tells their friends about your business and word-of-mouth is some of the most effective marketing there is.

Give them something to come back for

  • The most fundamental part of encouraging return sales is making sure that your service or product is up to scratch in the first place.
  • This extends to the experience they have when buying from your business - customer service should be flawless.
  • Make sure staff are attentive, friendly and helpful at all times, and that they know the products and services well so they can explain them to customers (spend a day or two training them if necessary).
  • Online, get friends to test your website to make sure it's really easy to use and resolve technical hitches ASAP.
  • If customers order by phone, don't keep them waiting, and make everything as easy as possible.

Build a relationship

  • Making a customer feel that you are paying them special, personal attention goes a long way to building a relationship with them.
  • Say hello with a smile and have a chat if you meet them face-to-face, and try to remember their name.
  • Online, send an email of thanks when they place an order - use their name rather than 'Dear Sir/Madam'.
  • Asking a customer for feedback tactfully can make them feel valued, but you need to be careful how you do it - a note of thanks with one line 'Is there anything we could have done to make your experience more enjoyable?' is enough, as you don't want to annoy them.
  • If you have their contact info, send Christmas or holiday messages at appropriate times - but don't inundate them with mail unnecessarily at other times, which will put them off.
  • Allow your best customers a little extra for free, or throw in a product for free every now and then if they place a large order - if they come to your business regularly, you should reward them.
  • It's also worth treating first-time customers, perhaps by offering a small discount - but only if you can remember who's a first-time customer! This will create goodwill and encourage them to return.

Incentivise them

  • Loyalty cards and deals that offer discounts and special offers for return custom are a great way to encourage customers back to your business.
  • Balance the number of return visits needed to gain a discount with how likely it is a customer will bother to make that number of returns - don't make it too many or they won't bother. Four to six visits usually work well with a loyalty card.
  • You can create them as you would business cards (although obviously the layout and design will be very different) and just get a rubber stamp to indicate when they've visited.
  • Watch your costs - you don't want to offer more than you can afford. Just check offering one free thing doesn't cost you more than the profits you made on the customer's previous sales.

Out-do the competition

  • Keeping ahead of the competition is also a key step. (Although bear in mind good customer service can often be important to the consumer than price differences. Hence why people are willing to pay far more for luxury brands, which essentially the same product as non-luxury brands, but really pay attention to their customers.)
  • How you stay ahead will depend on your market, but keep your USPs and target customers in mind, always, and try to always maintain an edge.
  • That said, undercutting on price will always please a customer - everybody likes a good deal.

Handling complaints and negative feedback

  • This is a crucial part of encouraging return custom, as bad customer service can be a huge black mark against a business.
  • Customers more often tell friends about bad experiences with businesses than good ones.
  • If a customer complains, the first thing they should hear is: "How can we make it better?"
  • If it's a serious complaint, a full refund and possibly also a free product should be offered.
  • Customers hate being passed from person to person. You either need to train staff to deal with complaints or have a system in place that directs them directly to the most senior person available in the business. They absolutely must not be kept waiting if they are being referred to someone more senior.
  • Profuse apologies at all stages are a must.
  • Make sure you or the member of staff communicates a desire to keep the person as a customer, however difficult they're being - speak calmly, positively and continue to ask what would make things better - then accommodate what they want.
  • Dealing with a complaint in a very positive way, quickly and efficiently, can sufficiently please a customer that they leave happier than when they came in. And it's the kind of service people tell their friends about - which means a nice bit of word-of-mouth marketing for you.

Resources

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