Anyone who runs a small business understands how important customers are to its success. But retaining customers in a competitive market isn’t always easy. In order to ensure your customers keep coming back, implement these five best-practice tips and turn those regulars into brand ambassadors.
1. Map your customers’ life cycles
In order to retain customers, first you must fully understand their journey with your business – from initial contact through the sales pipeline and then (hopefully) return visits.
One customer’s life cycle may be entirely in your retail store, while another’s may be online. More often than not, they will be a combination of both. So start by tracking how they flow through your business. Are they following logical, simple steps to purchase? Are there any common obstacles they encounter? Is their sales experience one that is easily repeated?
How you answer these questions will reveal ways to improve the user experience and create a streamlined sales process for future customers.
2. Understand when to employ a retention strategy
There are various times to implement a retention strategy, all with varying degrees of success and expenses. They can generally be broken down into four types:
- Pre-emptive: If customers are happy with your business and aren’t thinking about leaving, don’t ignore them! These are the ideal customers to nurture to ensure long-term retention.
- Proactive: Owners who are on the ball will recognise when a customer is thinking about leaving, and this is when they will apply strategies to retain them. Similar to ‘pre-emptive’, this is the most effective time to reduce customer churn.
- Reactive: If a customer has decided to leave, it may already be too late to get them back on-side. Even if you do manage to turn them around, it’s often an expensive process (through discounts or otherwise) to win back their business.
- Regain: There’s no worse time to employ a retention strategy than when a customer is well and truly gone. You are no longer front of mind and they may have already gone with a competitor. Attempting a retention strategy at this stage is has high risk, high cost and low effectiveness.
3. Get staff on the same page as you
Your staff is most likely made up of part-time and seasonal/casual employees. As such, it’s often just as challenging to retain your best employees as it is customers. But by integrating your staff into the overarching strategy of your business, you can ensure they are always on the right path and also focused on achieving your business goals.
Workforce-management tools are extremely effective at streamlining time-intensive jobs and also allowing communication between employees and their managers. By offering staff a mobile-friendly solution to rostering, timetables, hours worked and easy access to management, they will have more time to focus on retaining – and growing – your customer base.
4. Continually test marketing strategies
It’s all good and well to be happy that your weekly e-newsletter is getting customers through the door, but for ongoing success you need to test and revise your marketing strategies. Take advantage of analytics tools that can reveal the best time to contact a customer, as well as which subject lines result in sales. From there you can tailor your business content to different audiences and sell to them at a time that delivers the greatest conversion rate.
If you want to take it a step further, you may consider creating a VIP program with loyalty points. This not only gives new customers something to ‘attain’ in returning to your business, but it lets your regular customers know that you value them enough to offer rewards for repeat business.
5. Create a community around your brand
Your customers don’t want to connect with your ‘brand’ – they want to connect with the people who make your business shine. By developing a community online, you can give those customers a voice to connect with each other and potentially become ambassadors for your brand.
Take advantage of this by incentivising referrals. In the offline world, this might include offering discounts or free add-on services for word-of-mouth referrals. Alternatively, social media is the perfect place for customer engagement. Run contests where customers must like, share and tag a friend in an image related to your business. Or run time-sensitive promos that only your dedicated followers can see.
Retaining customers isn’t a magical art that requires hours and hours of work. For the time-strapped business owner, a few of these tips can make customer retention so much easier, and even grow your audience.