For many small businesses, getting customers is a challenge.

You have to differentiate your brand, create a unique selling proposition, and develop a quality product or service. But that’s only half the battle. With the advent of social shopping, comparison sites and “showrooming', competition for those same customers is fiercer than ever.

**So with that in mind, how do you keep the customers you already have without investing a lot of time or resources? **

Let’s take a closer look at the things you can implement today to improve your customer retention rates and create a loyal legion of fans that wouldn’t dream of going anywhere else.

Create and Surpass Customer Expectations

There's a lot of advice out there that tells you to surpass expectations, but what does that even mean? How are you supposed to impress when you aren't even sure what customers expect?

Create expectations, then systematically surpass them.

Many times, online contact form submissions are greeted with the typical “Thanks for your message! We’ll get back to you soon” spiel. When is soon? No one knows.

Instead, create a timetable for most customer inquiries that can be easily managed by your team. If you say “we’ll respond within 24 hours,' do your best to respond in less than one, particularly for urgent requests.

By surpassing your customer’s original expectations (to hear back from you within 24 hours) and responding sooner, you’ll create an unshakable positive experience that lets the customer know that you value their issue and want to resolve it as quickly as possible.

Create a System of Shared Values

With so many competitors offering the same product or services at relatively the same prices, it can be hard for small businesses and startups alike to stand out from the din of “me too” sellers. One way to make yourself known beyond the sale is to create a system of “shared values”; that is, to stand for something that your customers also value. Examples include:

When you align yourself with a charity, organization or movement that can tie in with your offer as well as echo the values and beliefs of your target audience, it generates a cycle of goodwill.  By shopping with you, customers know that their money is also going to a good cause – a win-win for everyone.

Soothe Friction with Bundles, Values, and Words

Throughout the evaluation process, when potential customers are deciding between your brand and others, there can be several unknown “friction points” that cause them needless aggravation and frustration. They may be small things, like a surcharge or cost for a small replacement part. Lots of little friction points can add up quickly.  So what can you do to eliminate these issues when you have to have that surcharge or fee?

According to neuro-economics experts, nearly a quarter of the buyers you service will be conservative spenders.  To help break that tough penny-pinching exterior, you have to position these costs in a certain way.  George Lowenstein of Carnegie Mellon University has developed a three pronged plan of attack for dealing with these types of customers:

Stop Rushing -- It Doesn't Help!

In your quest for better customer retention, you may want to charge right ahead and do everything with an emphasis on quality, speed, and courtesy. But numerous studies have shown that customers don’t necessary care about the speed of something. They care more about the quality, friendliness and attentiveness of the support personnel or technician to understanding their needs.

What’s more, nearly 20% of customers refuse to do business with a company because of rude or unprofessional service. In their minds, rushed means rude. So rather than trying to herd customers like cattle into pens, why not take a little more time to get to know their needs, the way they use your products or how you can serve them better?

By creating this type of rapport, you again show your customers that they truly are the lifeblood of your company, and that you aim to please.  Of course, you shouldn’t lag behind either, but resolving complaints immediately without making the customer feel like they’re being shuffled through the system says a lot about your brand and its true values.

What Are Your Strategies?

Now it's your turn. What are some of your favorite customer retention strategies?  Has a company really made a positive impression on you, and you can’t imagine going anywhere else? Share your experience and perspective with us in the comments!

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