By Simon Horton, Ecommerce Expert, ShopIntegrator

Building a solid base of loyal customers brings a number of benefits:

• For starters it makes financial sense. It costs far more to acquire a new customer than to retain an existing one
• In addition, returning customers are likely to spend more than first timers
• Loyal customers can also be advocates of your brand - referring friends and family to your business.

The great news for you is that the key components to winning customer loyalty don’t require a huge budget. Implementing some small changes can have a significant impact on how your customers view your business.

1 Customers are at the heart of your business

Put customers at the forefront of any business decisions you make, from marketing promotions right through to the checkout process. This is will result in an all-round positive experience that visitors will be happy to repeat.

Make time to review your business through the eyes of a consumer. For example:

• Appraise your website - Is the customer journey seamless from start to finish?
• Focus on specific elements such as delivery and returns - Are they fair, flexible and do they meet customer expectations?

2. Provide first-rate service

Everyone appreciates good customer service so don’t underestimate its importance. According to research up to 65% of consumers have cut ties with a brand over a single poor experience.

Implementing a few customer service guidelines creates a positive impression of your company.

• Be patient and give buyers your full attention if they phone.
• Remain polite even when handling the trickiest of customers. A genuine apology coupled with good manners goes a long way.
• Respond quickly and efficiently to all queries and complaints.
• Be consistent - Make sure your customer service guidelines are clear to everyone involved in your business.

Nobody enjoys dealing with negative feedback but if you offer excellent service even the most disgruntled customer can become an advocate.

In a nutshell, if you offer people the kind of service you would like to receive, you won’t go far wrong.

3. Build stronger relationships

A smaller customer base means you often deal personally with queries and have direct conversions, providing a great opportunity to really get to know those who buy from you.

Give customers added value content. For example, introduce some useful resources such as a blog, ‘how to’ guides, video demonstrations, trend reports and industry updates.

Create an environment that fosters interaction. Introducing product/service reviews is a great way to give your customers a voice and shows you value their opinion.

In addition, being active on social media, inviting comments and feedback will encourage buyers to engage.

4. Communicate on a regular basis

Out of sight is out of mind. I don’t mean that you bombard your customers with pushy sales messages, but you can keep in touch using a variety of positive communications.

Email and social media are excellent, cost-effective communication tools. Try sending out informative e-newsletters detailing products launches, feature updates, industry news, seasonal trends, new features, inspirational quotes, upcoming events, new blog posts and competitions. Experiment to get the frequency right for your audience.

Regular, well thought out communications can help build loyalty and make customers feel they are part of a special club.

5. Show your appreciation

Finally, don’t forget to show your customers that you appreciate their loyalty. All too often we spend so much time enticing in new customers that we forget about thanking our most loyal customers.

You don’t need to implement an all-singing, all-dancing loyalty programme. Introducing simple measures to say thank you will help customers feel valued.

• Thank regulars with an occasional reward such as a money off voucher, or free delivery and returns on their next order.

• Every time someone introduces or refers a friend to your business thank them with a free gift or special discount.

• Offer early access to any seasonal sales you have planned and give VIP previews to new products or next season’s ranges.

As a small business a loyal customer base can be your most important asset. By implementing some of these simple tips you can go a long way towards giving consumers the kind of experience they will want to repeat.