5 Ways To Build Customer Loyalty (Beyond Exceptional Service)

A quick glimpse inside my wallet and you can tell a lot about my shopping habits. Clearly I’m not leading a glamorous life. My Club Med and spa cards went out of the wallet years ago, replaced by a card for my local movie theatre and bulk shopping at BJs. Four kids has a way of reshaping your spending habits.

After cleaning out my purse I had a bemused thought — how do men hold all of their loyalty cards? I mean really – all they have is a wallet to carry in their back pocket. Curious, I asked 5 male friends what they carry around. They actually laughed at me. Apparently men don’t carry loyalty cards unless it is for a hotel chain they visit for business regularly. Admittedly, my male sampling was very small, but it got me thinking. How does a marketer create customer loyalty in a diverse customer base?  After a bit of personal exploration, and more than a decade running B2B customer appreciation programs I’ve learned a few lessons along the way. Here are five of my favorites.

1. Points Based Systems – Let’s face it. Humans like to “win” free stuff. Point systems are a time-tested approach. Harken back to the old stamp book programs grocery stores used to run. They are remarkably similar to today’s “membership cards”. Of course, today we’re not saving for a dish set, at least not usually! Yet not all points based systems work. Those that require more than 3rd grade math, or make it difficult to monitor progress lack adoption.  Buyers, especially B2B buyers don’t want to work hard to figure out the system.   Every time I shop at Staples I scan my reward card at check out. Today I got an email from Staples with $45.50 of “reward dollars”. All I have to do is print the coupon and use it before the September expiration date. Easy, simple, keeps me motivated!

2. Surprise Them – Panera is one of my favorite places for a quick lunch. Each purchase is relatively small but good customers come back several times a month. Instead of points reports, every once in a while the register surprises me with a yummy treat. I can pick a refreshing drink, or a delectable goodie. If I’m thinking of visiting Panera or another place I’m often tempted to choose Panera just in case I get a surprise treat. And just this past weekend my family visited our favorite chocolate shop Rocky Mountain Chocolate. When they rang up my purchase I was given an unexpected coffee mug. A small gesture, but one that’s now our hot chocolate go to for family nights.

3. Exclusive Offers – We all like to feel special. I chose my bank largely based on how well I feel the branch staff knows my business. My local pharmacy even gives you a “gift” if the pharmacy technician forgets to address you by name. But personalization isn’t the only way to make buyers feel special. Give good customers access to exclusive content, offer them special sales, give them a sneak peek at what’s coming in the next release of your product. Being part of a club feels good, so make all of your clients feel like they get the VIP treatment.

4. Ask For Help – This may seem counter intuitive but people want to feel important. By asking a customer to speak on your behalf, to review a product for you or to participate in a focus group, you are telling them loud and clear their opinion matters. If you then acknowledge and act upon what they tell you you’ve earned a level of loyalty that can’t be bought. There is a new sense of being “in this together”.

5.Take Responsibility – It’s tempting to focus customer loyalty initiatives on all the positive interactions we have with clients. But loyalty often comes from how a company handles when something goes wrong. If you make a mistake, own the error, apologize and do everything in your power to make it right. I recently had a client who was hosting their first trade show. I helped them develop messaging, facilitated analyst briefings and organized their booth presence including ordering show shirts. Everything was perfect except when the shirts arrived it turned out one person had a size that was too big for them. We rallied to get new shirts on time for the show and all ended well. But when it was time to bill the client I let them know I would be paying for the wrong sized shirts. It was only $120 but it was an error I owned. As it turned out the client was very appreciative of the gesture and in fact used the wrong shirts for something else. They insisted on being billed for the full order. In the end, it didn’t cost me anything, but it sent an important message. I care about your business and you can trust us. Had I needed to spend the $120 it would have been well worth it.

Customers must value your product or service before they can become loyal. But you should never take loyalty for granted just because you have a great offering. I hope these five tips inspire some of your own great thinking