Op Ed: Plan ahead to keep customers coming back

Written by  //  May 29, 2012  //  Biz Views  //  No comments

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Author Yohel Socarrás-Cobián is Puerto Rico District Director of SCORE, a resource partner of the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Many articles have been written about the decline of customer loyalty, and how frugal buyers are putting a higher priority on price. Fortunately for small business owners, the repeat customer is far from becoming extinct. In today’s highly competitive environment, every necessary step must be taken to ensure the relationship with your customer doesn’t end at the point-of-sale.

“You need to give your customers something of extra value if you want them to return,” says international hospitality consultant Linda Novey-White. “Look at your business like a customer would. What could you be doing better, and what is your competition doing better?”

Start by anticipating your customer’s needs. Think ahead to what the market will be demanding in the coming months and determine what you can do better. Also keep abreast of trends that may influence your customers’ purchasing decisions. They may alert you to the need to modify your offerings to respond to new regulatory requirements, or changes in preferred styles and formats.

You can also gain insights into customer needs simply by asking and, more importantly, listening. Too many businesses take it upon themselves to advertise the next big thing without considering whether their customers want it or not. And while everybody wants a good price, they want a good value even more. Listening to and acting on your customers’ needs and concerns will make a lasting impression on even the most meticulous comparison shopper.

Adding a personal touch will also forge a stronger bond between you and your customers. Casual conversations will yield important information such as birthdays, professional accomplishments, and family events that you can recognize with a card or other low-cost token of appreciation. Everyone appreciates a helpful reminder in this busy world, and a message about an upcoming event such as change in postage rates or a new industry requirement will cement your reputation as a go-to source for more than just your product or service.

It’s also helpful to regularly share news about your products or services, and the issues that affect their use. You can do this on your website, or via a customer e-newsletter. Just make sure your customers specifically request to be on your mailing list.

Finally, make sure you deliver what you promise. “Too many people offer hype and then don’t follow through,” Novey-White says. “Delivering a product or service that disappoints is the fastest way to lose your customers.”

To get more advice to improve your small business, contact SCORE, America’s free and confidential source of small business mentoring and coaching.  SCORE is a national nonprofit association of more than 12,000 business experts who volunteer as mentors. SCORE Puerto Rico provides free counseling to local entrepreneurs. Experienced business executives with a wide variety of business backgrounds donate their time to help businesses.  Counseling is available face-to-face and by other means. Give us a call us at 787-766-5001 and make an appointment to see us. You can also visit our national interactive website at www.score.org.

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