Any retailer who has seen a customer scan a QR code on a product in their store is likely to be frustrated by a lack of loyalty on the part of customers. Even though some people will always be concerned about price, many more are loyal to the brands they buy from and the retailers they frequent. However, it’s not enough to just hope that people are loyal, you must take steps to earn their loyalty.
It’s not just about that one customer, it’s about the ripple-effect impact that customer has on your business. First, it’s easier to keep an existing customer happy and coming back than it is to gain a new customer. Additionally, existing customers trust you and as a result, are more likely to try a new product or service you’re offering. Second, customers talk. If they’re not loyal and are a one-time shopper, a bad experience will have them burning up the Internet with negative reviews. A loyal customer will give you a lot of grace and the opportunity to make it right before they blast you on social media. Finally, loyal customers are more likely to refer others to your business. I’ve been going to the same dentist for more than 25 years despite the fact that I’ve moved more than 40 minutes away from his office. I do so because he provided my family with amazing care when my daughter was gravely injured about 15 years ago. I’ve lost count of how many people I’ve referred to him over the years, but if you want his number, I have it memorized and ready to give you.
Start with great customer service
Customer loyalty starts with giving the very best service every time a customer comes in. In the grand scheme of things, the service you provide is probably one of the few things that differentiates you from other independent and big-box pet retailers. It starts with truly caring about each customer and their pets. It also means you must make service a priority for yourself, and your team and it goes beyond just telling them to provide great service. You need to provide training and repeated opportunities to practice their service skills, especially when it comes to dealing with difficult customers and situations. Don’t just tell them how to handle these things, have them practice it until it becomes second nature. If you haven’t invested in a good customer service program, 2023 is the time to do it. Not only does great training help you provide the latest techniques for excellent service, but it ensures your employees all hear the same message.
Listen to your customers
I always say that a customer complaint is a gift. It could be an opportunity to provide a new product or service that brings more money (and customers) into your business, or it could just be a negative customer perception that you’ll want to understand and try to overcome. Reward your complaining customers with a big thank you for letting you know how they feel or about an experience they had. I’ve even gone as far as publicly thanking a customer for an idea or suggestion on my social media, with their permission of course. Even if you can’t make changes based on a customers input, it’s important they know that you heard them, have considered their request, and that you clearly explain why you can’t do what they ask. They may not like it, but at least they’ll understand where you’re coming from. Finally, don’t just wait for customers to provide you input. For every one that does, there are probably 10 or more who say nothing and just don’t return to your business. Take opportunities to survey your customers, post questions or polls on social media, and for your “regulars,” take the time to stop them and ask if they have a few minutes for you to get their input.
Have a customer loyalty program and make it easy on the customer to use
According to Bond research, 71 percent of consumers who are members of loyalty programs say membership is a meaningful part of their relationships with brands. Therefore, it’s no surprise that many businesses have loyalty programs these days. However, some put so much responsibility on the customer for using it that it makes you question whether the business really wants you to use it at all. For example, a business I frequent and spend a lot of money at has a program where you earn points for every $100 you spend. There’s no automated way to have those purchases tracked unless I remember to ask them to scan the code in my app. Additionally, about one out of every three visits does an employee ask me, “Do you have our XYZ loyalty app?” Loyalty programs should be automatic for the customer and initiated by you. Don’t have an app to use? Don’t worry. It could be something as simple as a text series for specials that you send to loyal customers only or a coupon you put in a hand-written card for their birthday or their pet’s. It could even be VIP access to a special event or hosting an event just for loyal customers. Anything you can do to make them feel special and appreciated is fair game.
Engage your customers on social media
I’ll be honest, there aren’t too many businesses that I truly engage with on social media. I follow them in the hope of getting access to insider information, but I don’t make it a habit to spend a lot of time on their pages. Why? Because they’re just spewing forth self-promotional or meaningless information. Engaging your customers doesn’t mean dumping info, photos, and videos on them. It means asking questions and creating opportunities for them to get involved. Rather than posting a picture of a wet dog and saying, “Barkley wasn’t too sure about getting a bath today,” ask, “What do you think Barkley is thinking about his bath?” And when your customers comment and answer your question respond to their answers to keep the conversation going. Another way to engage customers is to provide educational information you know they need. From nutrition guidance for senior pets to the importance of using heartworm preventative, the educational information doesn’t have to be about selling something your business carries, it’s about you becoming your customer’s go-to pet care resource.
Encourage customers to refer you to their friends
You might wonder how giving you referrals helps make customers more loyal. Well, it works in a similar way a loyalty program does. The customer is rewarded in some way for their actions. In this case, it’s for referring new customers to you. The dentist that I mentioned before does a great job soliciting referrals. He’s not aggressive or pushy, but he offers a great incentive for clients for the trust they place in him to refer friends. Each quarter there’s a prize to be earned by one or more clients for referrals. This past month it was the chance to win one of three $1,000 shopping sprees. Clients earn entries into the drawing for each type of referral they provide; one point for a Google review, one point for a Facebook review, and one point for every new person who comes into the office saying that a specific client referred them. I understand you might not be able to give away $1,000 every month, but you can start a lot smaller. Keep in mind though the value of the benefit of a referral. Nielsen found in their research on referral requests that 92 percent of customers trust referrals from people they know versus advertising and marketing. Think about how much you spend on marketing and how much you could save if your customers provided you with good referrals. If that doesn’t give you incentive, the Wharton School of business found that referred customers are between 16 percent to 24 percent more loyal on average than customers acquired through other means. The bottom line is loyalty begets loyalty.
Amy P. Castro, MA, is a business, leadership and communication expert, author and speaker who helps pet industry professionals grow their loyal customer base by building a “Best in Show” team that can deliver a 5-Star Customer Experience.