As a small business owner, you probably put a lot of your effort into attracting new customers—generating and nurturing leads, reaching out on social media, paying for Google Adwords and so on. And while we don’t diminish the importance of all that proactive marketing, we do want to tell you about a goldmine you’re sitting on: your existing customers.

Your work doesn’t stop at merely making a customer happy; we’re talking about providing a “wow” experience that will inspire total loyalty in your service/product. Think about Apple fanboys: these raving fans only buy Apple products, even standing in line all night for the newest iPhone. Think about Zappo’s: customers can buy shoes anywhere, but Zappo’s famed customer service—including free shipping and awesome return policies—makes for totally loyal consumers.

This isn’t just an abstract concept: a Lee Resource Inc. study says that attracting new customers will cost your company 5 times more than keeping an existing customer. And Bain and Co. says that a 5% increase in customer retention can increase a company’s profitability by 75%.

So how do you provide the kind of stellar experience that will convince your customers your brand is the best brand?

1. Create a Quality Product

This may seem like a no-brainer. Of course you’ll deliver a quality product! If it’s a service offering, you want it to be the best service experience available. If it’s a physical good, you want it to be high-quality and last a long time. But take a page from Apple’s book—quality is also about creating a beautiful, easy-to-use, intuitive product. If you publish an ebook, for instance, make the graphic design as gorgeous as the content is valuable. If you deliver a physical good, make the packaging beautiful as well as the product.

2. Be Consistent

Stay true to the commitment you’ve made to your customers—each and every time they touch your product or service. Make this happen by relying on the airtight repeatable systems you’ve built into your business processes. And certainly don’t put all the pressure on yourself… rely on automation to ensure consistency whenever you can! For example, automate your thank you and follow up emails so they’re delivered every time someone orders a product. Or automate your task management system to ensure that a team member is alerted to call a customer immediately when a problem or question is reported. Human nature craves and delights in predictability.

Be a person of your word. Be timely and reliable. Deliver your content or service when you say you will. Make sure your customer gets the same experience every time they do business with you. Lack of consistency creates mistrust, and is often due to a lack of systematization in your business. (For more about that, refer to Landon Ray’s Building a Better Business series.)

3. Be Willing to Admit When You’re Not a Fit

At Ontraport, we recommend other solutions, even our competitors, if the timing isn’t right for our software in the evolution of a person’s business. We would rather have a potential customer be happy and successful in their endeavors than grumpy because we’ve pressured them to fit a square peg in a round hole. This expression of goodwill will go a long way. Potential “square peg” customers will remember that you were honest and upfront with them, and they’ll be more likely to recommend their “round peg” friends who are looking for a service like yours. This kind of integrity might even pull them back to you at a later point when they are a good fit for your business.

4. Provide Ridiculously Awesome Customer Service

This may seem like another no-brainer, but again, we’re not talking about a good experience with your company, we’re talking about delivering a blow-your-hair-back experience.

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. When was the last time you experienced truly stellar customer service? Take notes on what made you feel so special and incorporate that into your customer service policies. Zappo’s once delivered pizzas to a client. While you don’t have to go as far as buying pizzas for all your customers, take inspiration from their “surprise and delight” philosophy.

At Ontraport, we hire customer service reps based on skill AND personality. We know it takes a very special type of person to deliver consistently amazing customer service… 100% of the time, regardless of a bad day or a rude customer.

On top of personality, we look at logistics to systemize the customer service experience. For example, we’ve elevated the experience for the customer by implementing a tiered customer support system. Instead of support tickets being evenly divided between all support reps, we assign the more complex tickets to experienced reps, and the simpler tickets to new reps. This has reduced ticket times and increased customer satisfaction through a relatively easy reorganization.

5. Have an Airtight Plan if Something Goes Wrong

You’re no super-human. You’re, well… human, which means you won’t be perfect all the time. And that’s to be expected. Ultimately, you won’t be at your 100% all the time. Things can fall through the cracks, a product might not be delivered on time, etc. Make sure to have a contingency plan and a sincere mea culpa. When something goes wrong, it’s always good to add a personal touch. Perhaps call a customer who had a less-than-stellar experience to apologize and offer them a discount, or comp his or her product totally.

It’s also a good idea to pull in the higher-ups. A phone call or email from a CEO or other high-ranking officer shows that the company is completely engaged—and that the customer is super-important. Our CEO personally answers questions and comments on our Facebook User Community, even directly submitting tickets to Support or Engineering.

Speaking of Facebook, constantly monitor social media for negative feedback. Many time customers won’t complain directly to you, but will take to Facebook or Twitter to call you out on a negative experience. Set up Google and social media alerts for your company name, and have a real person answer concerns on those outlets.

6. Inspire Your Team

You can’t inspire loyalty in your customers if you haven’t first inspired loyalty in your team. A team’s enthusiasm toward their workplace will naturally show in interactions with clients. Create an open, engaged company culture. Provide generous benefits and a holistic mind/body/soul experience at work (for instance, we pay for gym memberships). Engage and nurture your team with positive feedback, and always ensure that criticism is kind and constructive.

At our weekly all-team meetings, we read client testimonials to 1) acknowledge team members that are providing excellent customer service (the client’s voice is always heard) and 2) give team members a boost in front of their peers.

An engaged workplace isn’t something you can fake; customers will immediately pick up on a dissatisfied team member’s attitude.

7. Stay in Touch

Communicate, and communicate often, with your existing customer base. There are several ways you should be staying in touch:

  • Send a newsletter – Distribute a weekly or monthly newsletter with useful, actionable advice and updates from your industry. Do not use your newsletter to blast promotional messages. Not only are these clients already with you; they’ll soon become annoyed with your thinly veiled ads. Instead, optimize their use of the product/service with tips and tricks on its use.
  • Conduct surveys – Survey existing clients to see what you’re doing well, and where you could improve.
    Offer discounts and specials for clients only – Reward loyalty with discounts, flash sales and special offers for clients. Our clients Car Next Door, a peer-to-peer car sharing service offers customers driving long distances a discount in response to hitting a certain mile mark, while also encouraging them to upgrade to a higher tiered plan.
  • Segmentation is important – When you segment, you’re isolating what’s relevant for a particular group of people, and avoiding sending them stuff they couldn’t care less about. For example, you don’t want to send news of a brick and mortar sale to someone located in another state, or send news of a dress sale to the men on your list. Optimize special offers by making sure they go to the right people.

8. Learn From Customers Who Leave You

Use former customers to help you improve your client experience. Ask each customer who leaves why they chose to do so and work to make improvements based on their feedback. Are your prices too high? Is your customer service response time too long? Your customer service lacking? Perform a post-mortem with your team on what went wrong.

Also, don’t write a customer off for good. Car Next Door brings inactive customers back by offering them free rides and credit for replying ‘yes’ to an automated text message. They consistently re-engage “lost” clients.

New customers are sexy and exciting, sure, but don’t pursue them at the expense of neglecting your existing customer base. Customer loyalty keeps them coming back regardless of a higher product/service price or the occasional “oops”. To the raving fan, you’re the only product on the market worth purchasing. We all know those Coca-Cola people who refuse to drink Pepsi and vice versa. You too can inspire that kind of super fanatic loyalty with these eight simple (but not necessarily easy) steps.

What do you do to inspire customer loyalty?

About Aylin Sankur
Aylin Sankur is a content writer at Ontraport who loves to learn and write about all things marketing. She earned her M.F.A. in Creative Writing from St. Mary's University of California and her B.A. in English Literature from U.C. Berkeley. In her spare time, she enjoys Santa Barbara beaches, obsessively reads blogs and searches for the perfect burrito.