How to Keep Loyal CustomersBusinesses get so caught up in the relentless pursuit of new customers, they often forget about the customers they already have. It’s a costly mistake, since by some estimates, acquiring new customers costs five to 10 times as much as keeping loyal customers. And no business survives long using that arithmetic.

Jason Brick, a contributor to Open Forum, warns “preventable losses” are the most damaging to small businesses.

He shares some tips about common mistakes all businesses make—and how you can avoid losing a customer.

Don’t Sell Customer Information 

“Sharing customer information can represent a new income stream for your business,” Brick concedes, but at what cost? When customers purchase your product or service, they are willing to share personal data with you. They trust you to be responsible caretakers of that data. Once trust is broken, you’ve lost a customer.

Skip Small Talk About Politics or Religion

Politics and religion are hot-button topics under the best of circumstances, so there’s no good reason to unleash these “conversational time bombs” within the confines of your business.

“If a client brings the topic up, it’s best to be noncommittal while listening politely,” says Brick. Good advice!

Don’t Blame Customers for Your Mistakes 

Some businesses will go to great lengths to avoid owning up to their mistakes. Some even cast blame on their customers (“used our product incorrectly,” etc.).

Even if the issue is the customer’s fault, the wisest approach is to offer a sincere apology. As Brick notes, “The price of replacing a purchase or giving away a few hours of service is nothing compared to the future value of that customer.”

Forget “Suggestive Sales” If You Can’t Do it Right 

Amazon offers suggestions based on the products a customer buys, so why can’t you? “Firing off a set of suggestions without regard for who you’re asking shows you don’t value the customer as an individual,” Brick says.

On the other hand, if you take time to make suggestions based on a specific customer analysis, you may be providing genuine value to your customers. One-size-fits-all doesn’t work here.

No “Bad Days” Are Allowed with Customer Service

Rudeness to customers takes many forms: inattention, loss of temper, acting bored or arrogant. It can happen to the best of us, but if it occurs in the course of a customer encounter, you will likely never see that customer again.

“Train your employees—and yourself—to leave those behaviors behind when they come to work,” Brick says. “Nothing you wouldn’t say or do to your favorite grandmother has a place when working with customers.”

Honor Your Loyal Customers

Time and again, it’s the little things that count. How much effort does it take to acknowledge customers you’ve served before? Some small notice of their repeat business helps keep them loyal. As Brick suggests, “A ‘how did you like that shirt you bought last week?’ can go a long way."

Take a few minutes to remind your team of the value of honoring loyal customers who continue to purchase your products or services.

What are your own customer-retention best practices?

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