As a small business owner, knowing the importance of keeping customers satisfied is what will keep a company going strong for years to come. Customer incentive programs are designed to give your customers another reason to shop with you again next time. Reward points and “buy 5 get 1 free” are two examples of common customer incentive programs. Not only do incentives such as these provide customers with a reward for buying products or services from your small business, it also helps to build a sense of trust and loyalty between them and your business.

The result can be that they end up being a customer of your business for much longer than a single purchase. And we all know that old slogan – it’s much easier to keep a current customer than it is to find a new one. Customer incentive programs give your customers that extra reason to shop with you and possibly overlook problems and shortcomings that would have typically sent them shopping somewhere else.

Below are a number of incentive program ideas to break you out of the standard reward points structure. You can combine these or give your customers a choice. The point is to give them a reason to come back.

Quick Tip on Implementation

You don’t necessarily need a complex online system that tracks customer incentive programs. While this can be useful, implementation can be very expensive on the front end. Consider just asking customers for their email address so you can send them incentives. This is far less expensive and gives you a measure of control over what incentives are ideal for you at that time as well as when they get the incentives.

Provide Discounts

Providing discounts to customers allows them to buy items from your business without having to pay full price. While many businesses offer discount codes for new shoppers, you should actually offer these discount codes to all of your shoppers because you do not want to alienate the people who already buy items from your business. You can provide discounts on a monthly basis, enabling your customers to purchase items at a discounted rate, helping them to save money while buying the items that they enjoy. And, when you offer discounts, people will often feel more inclined to purchase items that they were unsure of buying in the first place.

Offer Free Shipping

Free shipping is quite eye-catching. There are some consumers who will be interested in purchasing a product but will see a ridiculously expensive shipping price and decide not to buy the product. Reward your customers by offering free shipping as much as possible or even all the time. When you offer free shipping, the customer will notice and may end up buying more items from your business, making it much more likely for your to earn more money to make up for the cost of the shipping anyway. Don’t be afraid to ask for something in return, like email and detailed contact information. This gives you multiple points of contact for marketing later.

Offer Free Bonus Items

Never be afraid to add in a few samples before shipping products out to your customers. By adding in some free samples, the customers feel appreciated because they are receiving a small gift from you and your business. In the meantime, you are helping to spread the word about other products and items that you sell. Everybody likes opening up a box and finding extra items included. And this can also give you an effective way to unload outdated products that you just need to get off of your shelf.

Respond to Your Customers

Customers are often passionate about the products and services they use, leaving positive or negative feedback based on their experience. Even if customers are not saying something positive, you should listen to what they have to say, make adjustments if necessary and respond to them. If a customer was not satisfied, offer them something to help change their mind or at least improve their experience. Of course you have to be careful with this approach as you may end up having customers complain just to get freebies. But the general principle applies – by providing superior customer support you incentivize your customers to return to you.

Ask for Customer Participation

Customers often like to feel as though they are part of the business and the brand, which is why customer participation can be so effective. You can ask customers to participate by holding contests, such as asking your customers to help you come up with a new logo or design for your business. Different contests help customers to participate with the business while raising awareness to others about your business. Give this select group of current or recent customers a reason to get on your site, even if only to review the contest information.

Forums

Another form of customer participation can be through the use of forums or social media. If you find that you have customers who are providing a great deal of information about your products on forums or on social media sites, send them a gift, thank them publicly, and/or offer them some kind of discount. You will encourage these customers to continue spreading the word, encourage other customers to join in touting your horn, and also hopefully gain new customers in the process.

Incentive programs can be highly effective when applied properly. Get the customer engaged after the sale and keep them coming back, and you’ll have a business that remains strong for the life of your company.