The economy has taken its toll on many small businesses, and you might be worried that yours is next – especially if you’ve got fewer customers this year than last. Here are three things you can do to build loyalty and make your customers less likely to switch to the competition.
As we struggle through these uncertain economic times with no real end in sight, it’s logical that the survival of our small business may start filling our thoughts. Maybe not consuming every waking hour, but for some of us that may be close. I know, for me personally as an IT consultant whose livelihood is based on continued interest from new and existing clients, my family sometimes gets the short end of the stick as I work to figure out new ways to grow my practice in this shrinking economy.
Nothing short of winning the lottery is going to take away all of our fears. Nothing. And it’s a given that customers can be fickle — they’re looking to save money just as much as we’re looking to make money. The two are almost mutually exclusive, so we’re always looking for that edge — that balance that will make us as profitable as possible, keep our current customers happy, and win lots of new customers. But there’s no guarantee — no magic potion or formula. It’s often trial and error… hit and miss. Some sink while trying to figure it out, some flounder for a long time, and some… thankfully… thrive and grow.
If you’re losing customers, or just afraid you’re going to lose customers as the economy gets tighter and tighter and the remaining competition gets cut-throat, there are a few things you can do to tighten that bond with the customer and figure out exactly what they’re looking for so that you may be able to meet their needs even better than you have been so far.
#1 — Conduct an email campaign with a discount or coupon included
This won’t work for all businesses, but it will for many. I’m not big on filling out surveys — the only ones I usually like are the ones I conduct on my own. But the few that I do get involved in that really draw me in are the ones that offer me something in return like a discount or coupon on a future purchase. You do that with your customers and you can gain some great demographic information and learn a lot about what your customer thinks about you and your product offering, while keeping them coming back for more because you just gave them something to use next time they need services like yours.
#2 — Contact your long-term customers directly by phone
To make sure that you maintain that close personal relationship with your best customers, reach out to them by phone periodically. Talk to them about what you offer or are doing that they like, and what they would like to see changed. Ask them to be candid and let them know that you’re seriously interested in their honest feedback. Consider it sort of a ‘lessons learned’ session — we all can use those from time to time.
#3 — Analyze customer purchase trends
This is something you probably should be doing all along, but with smaller businesses run by one or two very busy people, it can be extremely difficult to set aside the time to do it right. What you need to do is select a time period — maybe it’s the past six months, maybe a full year — and see who your best customers are, where they’re coming from, what they are purchasing, how much they’re spending, etc.
You would think this would be a no-brainer to want to know this, but you’d be surprised at how many big businesses aren’t really paying attention to this either. I did analysis work that was sort of like this for a very large Midwestern grocery chain figuring out what their top ten sellers in each department were. Yes, you would think that their two hundred stores were already doing this and you would think that the corporate office had a standard way to do this, but that was not the case. It took a forward-thinking store manager to bring me in to help and then other regionally located stores from the same chain wanted the same services from me. It turned out nicely for me, but what a sad statement about this large organization that they had no reporting structure already in place to ensure that all stores are being as profitable as possible.