If any part of your business enterprise relies on your relationship with consumers, beware of the “Age of Endangerment.” At no point in history has your customer base been more vulnerable to poaching than today. However, it is still possible to create extreme customer loyalty and generate repeat business in this highly threatening consumer ecosystem.

There are eight crucial stages in every customer’s journey, from the moment he or she

encounters your place of business (in person, by phone, or online) to the time following the purchase, when customer loyalty is put to the test. The following steps correspond to each stage in the customer journey and if you follow them, you will generate levels of customer loyalty you have never seen before.

The eight steps to guarantee repeat business are:

  1. Make the customer feel welcome –Every customer who goes to a physical store, website or chat room is in a somewhat vulnerable condition. They need or want something they can’t provide for themselves. Your company’s job is to give them hope that they’ve come to a place where their problem or desire will be addressed in a helpful, friendly manner.
  1. Give the customer your full attention –People want to feel they have control of their own destinies. One of best ways to provide the sense of control is to give the customer undivided attention. When you listen and pay attention it demonstrates to the customer that he or she is important and worthy of your respect. Customers always have an underlying emotion when asking a question or voicing a concern. They could be excited, frustrated, angry, disappointed; having another human being listen to and acknowledge that emotion helps develop a foundation to create a relationship.
  1. Answer more than their question –By answering more than the customer’s question, you can offer valuable guidance the customer can’t get anywhere else. People feel their situation is unique, which it is. When the associate or company can create a personalized and customized interaction, it is another critical, positive step in the customer journey.
  1. Know your stuff –Customers want someone to help them who is knowledgeable about the company’s merchandise or details of their service. This does not happen often enough, in part because there is a high percentage of employee turnover. The cost of employee turnover is rarely quantified or discussed and should be included in the ROI formula. There are many missed opportunities for relationship building between the customer and the employee when staff is constantly changing.
  1. Don’t tell the customer no –All virtues provided to your customers with the first four essentials – hope, control, direction and competence – go right out the window with the word “No.” There are many variations: “Can’t,” “Not allowed,” “Won’t.” All of them have the capacity to destroy customer goodwill. Before you say no, won’t or can’t, think about an alternative reply. “Let me check on that and get back to you by a specific time and day or I’ll ask my manager and do some research on the Internet; maybe there is another business that carries what you want,” are all good responses.
  1. Invite the customer to return –It’s human nature to be wanted. If you meet someone for the first time and have a great conversation at lunch, dinner or coffee, the ultimate compliment is when either party says to the other, “let’s do this again and let’s do it soon.” Asking someone to get together again is motivating. We are hot-wired, with mirror neurons, to respond positively to positive, friendly requests. When customers have a good transactional experience, and the associate sends a message to come again, the customer will do just that, return.
  1. Show the customer they matter –In order to develop true customer loyalty, the shopping experience must be more than just a transactional exchange. Gestures of acknowledgment are critical to remind customers they are valuable.
  1. Surprise the customer in good ways –Make the experience memorable. While it might be one of the more difficult goals to execute, customers crave attention and want that special feeling. There are many ways for a company to distinguish itself and show the customer he or she is important even after the sale. Surprises are not necessarily high budget items. Magic can happen in simple ways. Customer satisfaction is a minimal standard; true relationships are built around surprise and delight

It’s nice to be in business, but it’s better to stay in business. The secret sauce is to create and build long term relationships in a brick, click or phone culture that keeps customers coming back forever. Each customer experience should demonstrate active listening skills that make the customer feel in control. This is a necessary step in the journey to sustain long-term business growth.

If you’re interested in learning more about these eight steps, start here by downloading a free chapter of The Endangered Customer: 8 Steps to Guarantee Repeat Business.