Small business owners wear many hats and make oodles of decisions; it’s understandable that they struggle with deciding where and how they should spend their marketing dollars, or if they should spend any at all.
As a small business it’s difficult to ignore parts of your business or cover them up with advertising. Large corporations can get away with this a bit more because they have advertising dollars small businesses could never dream of. They can run ads til the cows come home.
If there’s one thing that a small business has control over, it’s in HOW they do business, and how they do business often determines how much of it they do. Too many businesses think they’ve won a customer the moment they sign on the dotted line or hand over their credit card, but that simply isn’t true. You’ve won a customer when that customers feels they have received more value out than what they paid in. Plain and simple.
If a customer thinks that you’ve won this game in any way, and that they are simply a paycheque, you’ve failed at creating a loyal customer. When they feel that they got the better end of the deal, they’ll be more likely to help promote your business and you’ll get to spend more time doing what you do best, instead of wondering where your next customer will come from.
Let’s look at 10 ways you can create these loyal customers that will do the marketing for you, saving you time and money:
- Identify who it is that you want to make happy. You need to have a defined market, because trying to sell to anyone and everyone is impossible. This market is usually determined by happy customers you’ve had in the past. Who were they? What did they like?
- Find out what customers within that target market didn’t like. When it comes to customers, no news isn’t good news. If they haven’t made a peep about the product or service you sold them, that probably means they weren’t completely happy with it and just don’t want to bother making a fuss. Ask them what was good, and ask them what was bad.
- Look for patterns in what your customers are telling you. Was there a part of the customer service process that was confusing or downright bad? It’s best for you to be as humble as possible at this point. If the consensus is that something needs to change, you need to put your ego away so you can look at it objectively.
- Practice active listening. When things go wrong it’s best to listen attentively and respond with a “What I hear you saying is…”, “Thanks for your feedback”, “We’ll work on that” and “Is there anything we can do to improve your experience?”. Retaliating is never a good idea. Find someone to vent to that understands your frustrations if you need to.
- You’re never going to make everyone happy (see #1). Decide when it’s time to respectfully part ways with a specific customer, mindset, service or persona. If they’re consistently unhappy and it’s making you consistently unhappy, it’s not worth the energy.
- Make small tweaks based on customer feedback. You may have a general idea of what the problem is, but you’re not sure how to solve it. Make small tweaks until the complaints fade out, instead of making a drastic change that wasn’t what they were looking for anyway.
- Know what your value proposition is. What do you do well and what do you do better than anyone else? The first 6 points should help you figure this out and it should be apparent in your company image.
- Be concise, honest and transparent. Don’t tell someone you can do something when you can’t (see #5).
- Make it easy for happy customers to talk about you. This is where the “marketing” comes in. You need to be visible and active so that you’re regularly reminding your customers that you’re there. If a friend of theirs is looking for an accountant or a plumber, your customer should be able to hand them something impressive, and you should make it easy for them to do that.
- Treat everyone with respect. Employees, suppliers, vendors, competitors, the telemarketer that just called you; you never know when any of these people will have an opportunity to promote your business or become customers themselves. Treating them badly guarantees that they won’t.
Think about these 10 suggestions as you go about your own business, and as you experience customer service from other businesses. If you are able to do these things your business will be well on it’s way to marketing itself, without the advertising budget.