Whether business is booming or times are tough, focusing time and money into acquiring customers isn’t enough. You also need to build existing customer loyalty. Although it is a time-tested cornerstone of any local business marketing strategy, a focus on customer retention can be eclipsed by exciting, new products and platforms (like Google Plus). But it’s just as critical to invest in building customer loyalty, because existing customers are worth more to your business than just the initial sale.

So here are some online and offline tactics that will help you build customer loyalty and hold on to the fans you’ve already got!

Create experiences worth talking about. Focus on making a lasting, positive impact with each and every customer so when they talk about your business on social media,  online review sites, or in their circle of friends and family, their story is one you want to be seen and shared.

  • Online: Create and share content that existing consumers find interesting, engaging and shareworthy. Offering helpful how-tos and tips related to your industry will reinforce your commitment and passion to your customers. For example: if you’re a plumber, advising customers on how to deal with seasonal changes, like dripping faucets in the winter to prevent freezing is helpful to your customers and builds your brand. Anything you can do to position yourself as the trusted authority in your industry will make you a valuable resource your customers will value, helping build customer loyalty and potential referral.
  • Offline: Make a good impression from the get-go by delivering a solid product with excellent service each and every time a customer interacts with your business. Think of each customer interaction as a defining moment that will determine whether that customer comes back to you or tries a competitor the next time they need your services, or whether they write a positive or negative review online.

Stay in touch after the sale – without being too salesy. Following up with customers in a friendly way sends a message that you see your customers as people, not as dollar signs. If you want to build your lifetime customer base, focus on building personal relationships with each customer.

  • Online: Share important information about your industry, community, and customers on social networks like Facebook and Twitter. You can spread the word about local news and events, or comment on customers’ status updates, photos and more. When speaking as your business brand online it’s best to stick to a light, upbeat tone and topic.
  • Offline: When entering customer details in your system, be sure to track birthdays, anniversaries or other relevant events that would be appropriate to celebrate by mailing an occasion  card or offering a special discount  

Reward loyalty. Customers know they have a choice when it comes to purchasing goods or services, so find ways to thank them for choosing you.

  • Online: Highlight a customer of the month on your business’s social media pages, featuring their name, a picture, and other fun details about their personality and interests (especially if they can relate to your business, product or service). And be sure to offer a special gift (like a discount or freebie) to show how much you appreciate the unique people who support your local business.
  • Offline: Customer loyalty programs like traditional punch cards or keychain attachments with bar codes are a great way to reward repeat customers. Try offering discounts or freebies once customers have spent a certain amount of money with your business, or have made a certain number of trips to your store in a given time frame.

Get involved with your community. Reassure customers that your business is here to stay and that supporting your business also supports your local community by strengthening your neighborhood presence.

  • Online: Highlight all the great work you’re doing in your community by promoting it with stories, pictures and videos across your social media profiles. Include your business name and geographical keywords, and tag local faces and places to make sure to spread the word about your involvement online.
  • Offline: Host special events at your business with your local Chamber of Commerce, sponsor local sports teams, or donate your time by volunteering for non-profit organizations around town and sporting a company t-shirt to show your business’s community spirit. Choose activities and affiliations you’re proud to align your business with (this is great visibility for your brand, after all!), and be sure to cast a generous net to make sure you’re not missing some great outreach opportunities.

There are many ways to build customer loyalty, but they all have in common one thing: adding value to your customers’ lives. Whether that value comes in the form of helpful content, special discounts, or public recognition, staying top-of-mind in meaningful ways is how you’ll encourage customers to return to your business again. And with all the additional lifetime sales, word-of-mouth referrals and social buzz these programs can generate, it’s just good business sense to give some of that value back to your customers.

What customer loyalty techniques have worked for your business in the past? Will you try any of these suggestions in the near future? Share your thoughts in a comment!

Author: Angela Epley writes about online advertising & web presence for the ReachLocal blog, which focuses on small business online marketing strategies.