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Creating a Loyal Customer

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The Editor’s Letter as it appeared in the December 2013 issue of Pet Age magazine

On my way to work one day last month, I stopped at my vet’s office to pick up heartworm medication for my dog.

Through casual conversation, I asked a question of the receptionist, adding, “yeah, if I asked Dr. I, he would laugh at me.”

“Oh, Dr. I isn’t here.”

I said something to the point of him just not being there that day. And, then that’s when they broke the news to me.

“No, Dr. I, no longer works here,”

The next 10 minutes were a blur of words:

“What do you mean? He doesn’t own the practice anymore?”

“No.”

I think that was the last thing I clearly remember. Other than that it was now owned by a corporation. My heart sank about 50 feet. I couldn’t form a full sentence and I was in complete shock.

This was a vet who I grew up with. He treated every pet in my family. He was a doctor, whom I would trust 100 percent with my dog’s life, and was likely one of the reasons I thought of becoming a veterinarian.

Later that day I found out he started a new practice about 3 hours away. I breathed a sigh of relief.

My immediate thought? Grab my files, and run.

Then common sense kicked in, and I realized it was too far away for regular vet visits, but knew that if something serious ever happened, he was still in practice and close enough that I could bring Toby to him.

The whole incident got me thinking about customer loyalty.

As a retailer, you don’t want just repeat customers, but loyal customers. Ones who will pay a little extra if you have to raise prices, because your costs are going up. Ones that move across town because they got married, but will drive the extra 10 minutes to your store instead of going to the one that might be closer.

You might ask how this is done. While I’m not a retailer, I do know about brand loyalty, and I also know what made me want to jump to Dr. I’s new practice.

It was relationship building.

We talk about that subject a lot here at Pet Age, not just internally, but also on the pages of this magazine. In fact, you may be sick of reading about it, but it’s one of the best ways you can separate yourself from the competition.

Being there for your customers when they have questions, giving them educated answers, knowing their pet’s name, asking them how their day was and actually caring about them as a person, helps build a relationship between you and them.

My vet never “marketed” to me. In fact, the only thing I think I ever got from him in the mail was a postcard reminding me about an upcoming appointment, or that Toby was due for a check up.

It’s the philosophy of my friend Ted Rubin, co-author of the book “Return on Relationship.” I met him several years ago at a social media conference, and I’ve followed his business practices and advice ever since.

While most people talk about the ROI, or return on investment, especially when it comes to marketing and brand loyalty, he talks about the return on relationship, and building a true relationship with the people who are doing business with you.

That’s what builds loyal customers.

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