Picture this: It’s a slow-ish Monday afternoon and you’ve processed all your new inventory, washed the windows and updated your displays. You have plenty of time to really focus on the few customers that come in. The day’s sales aren’t amazing. But your customers leave happy with the just-right thing they came looking for.
Next week, those few customers return. But today, they’re bringing friends. You remember the original customers and ask how they’re enjoying their prior purchases, and present them with something else they may enjoy. You pay attention to their companions and make them feel like valued friends-of-a friend.
Before you know it, you’ve created a community of shoppers or diners who trust you enough to return again and again, and who want to share their experience with their network.
What would it be like if every single customer you served sang your praises in the moment, came back often and brought their friends? It’s possible. It’s achievable. And it doesn’t matter if you run a restaurant, retail store or service business.
As a company with two decades of experience in the small business community, we’ve seen businesses do this successfully. And we’d love to walk you through some practical strategies you can use to lock down the repeat business of your wildest dreams.
1. Make a good impression before they walk through the door.
Everyone wants to have a good business reputation. But what can you do to get there?
A glowing recommendation is the highest praise you can receive for a simple reason: It comes from the heart. You can’t fake the authenticity of someone who believes what they’re saying. It’s infectious, and people can’t resist being part of the excitement.
There are lots of ways customers can boost your business' reputation beyond just recommendations. The free advertising a loyal customer provides by wearing merchandise or reviewing their meal is hard to truly measure.
Online chatter is easy to blow off as the younger generation’s hobby. In reality, positive digital word of mouth (DWOM) — the info and opinions customers find online — is a huge factor in how people of all ages make choices.
For instance, TripAdvisor claims that 94% of diners are influenced by online reviews. And 78% of people share positive brand experiences with people they know at least once a week. That’s important because 90% of people are more likely to trust a brand recommended to them, even from strangers.
As you can tell, not many people walk down Main Street and pick the first open place for a haircut or dinner destination these days. Consumers are browsing options online in advance. A lot. Your online presence matters. If you aren’t reading reviews, responding to them quickly and sharing key positive and negative takeaways with your staff, it’s time to get started.
What happens during a transaction has an impact on your business reputation, no doubt. But being well-rated and responsive online is also more important than ever. Hearing other people’s positive experiences makes customers confident that you’re on top of your game, whether they’ve come in 100 times or are considering a first visit.
2. Prioritize the relationship over short-term wins.
When a customer looks overwhelmed by options or outright asks for recommendations, think of it as an invitation to get to know them a little better. Sure, you could default to the current special you’re running or the latest merchandise that’s arrived. But you’d be missing out on a greater opportunity to bring more value to your customer.
One truth hasn’t changed over decades or across industries: Customers love to be catered to. Having quality offerings will get you started, but outstanding service will make you a staple.
As a restaurant owner, relationship-building service could look like offering a sample of the sauce in a dish they’re curious about. Or asking if anyone has special dietary restrictions before taking their orders.
As a retailer, you could offer to special order that just-right thing they’ve been looking for, or personally reach out when you get a shipment of items from a brand they love.
Playing the long game demands that you consider each customer’s ideal experience, wants and needs. Because catering to customers is not the same as hitting them with a hard sell.
Everyone enjoys choices and options, but pressure is off-putting. Put yourself in the shoes of your customers and consider what they would like to have, not what you want to sell.
If you create a solid foundation of trust and long-term loyalty with a customer, you'll stand to make a much larger profit than if you focus on one large sale at the expense of the relationship.
3. Checkout is about the current sale and future buys.
Wrapping up a customer’s transaction is the perfect opportunity to boost your units per transaction (UPT).
UPT is just a fancy way of talking about how many items a customer buys in one visit. If you can get that number to be even just a little bit higher on every transaction, that leads to exponentially more revenue for your business over time.
For retail, that could mean mentioning the low cost add-on items like mini candles, comfy socks or fun, impractical treats displayed near the cash wrap at checkout.
It works in restaurants too. The goal is to increase the number of items per check. Done consistently, that adds up to your business having a higher average check — meaning more revenue. Making it happen could be as simple as presenting the dessert menu to each and every table in addition to offering coffee service after the meal.
You can even upsell them on a related item they missed: perhaps a tropical cocktail that complements the entrée they loved, or the perfect straw fedora to wear with their new swimsuit for an upcoming vacation.
Don’t get discouraged if they don’t immediately take you up on the idea. Customers appreciate thoughtful, well-timed input and you may plant a seed that blossoms into another sale down the road. Even if you don’t get the upsell, you can use the current checkout to help generate a follow-up visit and future sale.
To nudge them along, consider a special offer voucher (with a reasonable expiration) to make the next purchase. People always need to buy gifts or want to meet friends for cocktails. Vouchers create a win-win situation where you’re the obvious choice.
4. Be specific and show value in follow-up offers.
You don’t have to wait for customers to be in your store or restaurant to entice them with personalized offers. Email is a great way to target specific customers with unique offers.
When using email marketing, make sure you’re sending emails that feel like a value-add instead of a basic solicitation, aka junk email. Customers may be weary of handing out their email just to get bombarded by promotional emails.
Instead of leading with something vague like “Can I get your email to send you offers?” consider options that underscore the relationship you’re trying to build, like “Can I send you a gift for your birthday?” or “Where can I send store coupons so you get the best deals?”
Loyalty programs are also an effective tool in your arsenal. You don’t have to be bogged down in technical details to use the technology effectively. Starting with a simple customer engagement routine can go a long way.
Using your POS data, break customers into groups based on interests or previous purchases and provide timely, relevant incentives to bring them back. The more they visit, the more data you can collect to effectively understand their needs.
5. Surprise and delight when they least expect it.
There’s another way to use customer data that is worth considering.
Surprise and delight is a different kind of marketing tactic that goes a long way towards making customers feel valued. Unlike a voucher which is an invitation to buy, surprise and delight means spontaneously offering a free item that’s designed to make customers feel — you guessed it — surprised and delighted.
If you’re running a loyalty program, use it to full effect by tracking customers’ favorite colors, brands, fabric preferences, etc. to boost the value of your gift.
Consider which customer groups would be most responsive to this type of campaign and those who are most valuable to your brand. Also be sure to choose the free offering carefully. Is it worth the trip for them to come collect it?
When done well, surprise and delight is a great way to reward existing brand advocates and create new ones via (digital) word of mouth. Because these happy customers are even more likely to share their gratitude and excitement with your business online.
There’s a reason we enjoy counting down the days until a vacation. It’s exciting to have something to look forward to in the future. As a business owner, your hope should be to create that same kind of anticipation for your customer’s next visit.
Plus, that warm fuzzy feeling you create in a loyal customer could translate to your business becoming their go-to place for special occasions, like anniversaries and birthdays. Handling small details with great love is an effective strategy for winning repeat business. It’s hard to compete with the bond small businesses form with customers over years of meaningful moments.
Find your way into customers’ hearts and spread the love
Going the extra mile to generate repeat business is worth the work in the long run, but it can seem overwhelming and too time consuming if you're not set up for “rinse and repeat” success.
This is where Heartland can help. We make sure you’re on a path to success. Both with the right technology solutions and with the know-how to use them strategically.
We have simple and powerful technology solutions that automate day-to-day tasks and help you make and move money. But we do way more than that.
This blog is one part of our Unstuck Playbook, a free training for any small business, customer or not. It’s packed with simple but effective strategies like our 21 Fastest Ways to Drive Revenue in Your Business in Less than One Week. All to help you move your business forward and seize your potential.
If you haven’t seen it, you definitely want to check it out here.
If you have, your next move is to find out exactly how Heartland helps make customer experiences great with solutions like fast, reliable payment processing, and user-friendly payroll and POS options that track customer favorites and help manage loyalty.
To learn more about what we could do to help your small business, click here.