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7 Ways to Keep Customers Coming Back to Your Small Business

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You worked hard putting together a marketing plan to spread the word about your small business -- to drive customers to your door. The next task is to figure out how to get them to return again and again. In some businesses, you can predict a buying pattern. For instance, office cleaning services, beauty salons or payroll services can generally map out a schedule of when customers will need to come in for their next product or service. To create a strong customer relationship, ongoing outreach and engagement will bring them back for more. Here are 7 ways to keep customers coming back to your small business.

Be easy to do business with. When you respond quickly to your customer's needs, they will notice. Make sure that you check your email and voicemail regularly. Try to respond within two hours of any contact from your top customer. Provide key contacts with your direct cell phone and office number in case of any major concern. Make your customers aware of any process, product or technology upgrade that will help them improve their operations, make more money or become more competitive.

Add value. You can add value to a customer's business by your great pricing, quality, reliability, and customer service. Providing great service is really an advantage for all small businesses. Here is a link to my interview with Yaniv Masjedi on How Can You Avoid Customer Service Mistakes in Your Small Business.

Stay in contact. How often you contact your customers will vary, from weekly to monthly depending on your industry and the time of year. It doesn't matter how you stay in contact, but that there is regular communication, whether by phone, email, Skype, snail mail or in person, let your customers know that you appreciate their business. Business relationships are just like any other relationship. They require effort to maintain and they must be mutually beneficial. And don't just call about business; ask about vacation plans and the kids. Be willing to give, share and support, not just try to go in for the up-sell.

Talk the customer's language. My mentor was recruited from the retail industry to the phone business, with no telecommunications experience. Why do you think he got the job? He knew "retail" and he could use telecommunications solutions to solve retail problems like inventory control, customer service and other issues. Make sure you listen carefully to how your customers speak about their industry. Each culture can be very different. When you use their language, you become an insider and make people feel comfortable.

Admit mistakes. When you alert your client to a mistake, you can often create a customer for life. Correcting missteps will take you far when it comes to building relationships. Often times, people just want to know that you are sorry and that you have a plan for getting back on track. Respond immediately with an apology and a proposal for fixing the problem. When a mistake is more than a minor setback, do something to make it right such as giving a portion of the fee back or providing additional services or product to the customer at no cost.

Pay Attention. Being a good listener highlights your virtues much better than being a big talker. I coached a financial planner years ago and we did a little market research on what his clients value the most in him. They valued his advice and his skills in handling the money, but what set him apart is that he takes the time to listen to his customers and really understands where they are coming from. They valued him as a sounding board, and a few even called him better than a shrink! If your clients love the way you make them feel, that leads to referrals and long-term business success.

Keep detailed notes. I travel with a small notebook at all times. I take note on everyone I meet and during every phone conversation. If you're using a CRM system, enter those notes in the system. It will help you know how to connect with your customer in your next interaction. Later, you will be able to enter keywords like 'sailing' or 'wireless' or 'French' and find all the people you know who match that keyword. Doing keyword mining on your own contacts will pay dividends for years.

Don't take customers for granted. Once they buy a product or a service from you, there's no guarantee they will return -- and that's what you need in the long term to run a sustainable small business. Follow these tips and your customers will pay you back with loyalty and increased sales.

Do you have any more tips to get small business customers to return?

This article was originally published under the title How to Develop a Sustainable Small Business at www.succeedasyourownboss.com

Melinda F. Emerson, known to many as SmallBizLady, is America's #1 small business expert. As CEO of Quintessence Multimedia, Melinda educates entrepreneurs and Fortune 500 companies on subjects including small business startup, business development and social media marketing to fulfill her mission to end small business failure. She writes a weekly column on social media for The New York Times. Forbes Magazine named her #1 woman for entrepreneurs to follow on Twitter. She hosts #SmallBizChat Wednesdays on Twitter 8-9 p.m. ET for emerging entrepreneurs. She also publishes a resource blog Melinda is also the bestselling author of Become Your Own Boss in 12 months; A Month-by-Month Guide to a Business That Works and the ebook: How To Become A Social Media Ninja; 101 Ways to Dominate Your Competition Online.