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There is no doubt that having repeat customers is crucial for a business’ sustainability. Every business should aim to convert any customer into loyal ones. After all, new customer acquisition takes more time, money, and effort than keeping existing ones.

Many try to employ activities, events, and gimmicks to create a loyal base. How effective these activities are would vary from business to business. Just ask many of the businesses that rode the Groupon hype of a few years ago and found out that it wasn’t exactly the best way to entice repeat customers.

So how should businesses approach gaining customer loyalty and retention?

Don’t stop with just customer satisfaction

In their book The Effortless Experience, Nick Toman and Rick Delisi of CEB (with bestselling coauthor Matthew Dixon) explore the new developments in fostering customer loyalty. Their study revealed some trends that challenge existing assumptions and conventional wisdom.

A key finding in their study reveals that customer satisfaction does not necessarily translate to customer loyalty. The researchers found the same level of interest in doing repeat business, from both customers whose expectations were exceeded and customers whose expectations were simply met.

So it appears that the hype behind always exceeding customer expectations should be met with a degree of reservation. While it is still a good idea to make sure customers are happy, businesses may want to balance out the effort. There appears to be some diminishing returns to the idea of trying to exceedingly please everyone.

Want to keep customers loyal? Don’t ask them to do so much

If the drive for delight doesn’t necessarily secure customer loyalty, then what does? Focusing on what makes customers disloyal, the researchers found out that customers don’t like exerting extra effort in getting issues resolved. When they feel exasperated, they simply take their business elsewhere.

“Loyalty is driven by how well a company delivers on its basic promises and solves day-to-day problems, not on how spectacular its service experience might be,” the book’s summary points out.

Toman et al provide a framework for what they call effortless experience, wherein customers simply want to get the job done and over with.

This also means that customers don’t want to hit any snags during the process. Don’t ask them to accomplish extremely tedious steps when making a purchase (such as filling in long information sheets). Don’t make it hard to find information they want. Don’t make it hard to reach customer support. When you ask your customers to move out of their comfort zones, it’s more difficult to convince them to buy again.

Let us therefore give our thoughts on what other practical things businesses can apply and incorporate to lessen customer effort and inspire loyalty.

Minimize potential causes of issues

The key here is to prevent anything that will require a customer to exert extra effort, whether it’s signing up anew or keying in their contact or delivery details again. Here, it’s important to provide an excellent user experience that minimizes any potential issues at the outset. In short, make your UX efficient and avoid any possibility of customers messing up.

Error prevention has been a core part of usability heuristics. This means the system should be logical and have certain constraints, which prevent the user from messing up or inputting something they’re not supposed to.

Developers and designers have to figure out ways to make the system easy and intuitive for all users. Investing in such a system pays off as customers get to complete transactions without any fuss.

Always be available

Many businesses have taken on the High Availability mantra, which essentially means you are always there for the customer – or at least your product never goes down or offline. Whether you are servicing a B2B audience or you run a customer-facing product, uptime can either be a contract obligation or even just an implicit agreement.

Either way, it pays to have a technically-sound infrastructure, such that you can minimize or even prevent any downtime or instances of unavailability. Imagine yourself in the shoes of a consumer when internet or cellular service breaks down. Don’t they always threaten to switch providers? That’s how loyal customers go, in terms of businesses they perceive to screw them up in some way.

Improve customer service channels

While businesses think that helplines are still the preferred way to address customer complaints, an increasing number of people avoid phone calls and prefer other channels like online and social media.