From front-of-house employees to five-star Facebook reviews, maintaining a reliable brand identity is key to building customer loyalty. However, an increasing number of online channels has made it harder than ever to maintain a consistent, well-rounded brand experience.
The good news is that this is exactly the challenge we’re tackling in our third and final installment on local marketing. In this post, we’re going to discuss how small businesses can build and maintain customer loyalty across in-person interactions and digital brand reputations.
From writing a handwritten note to asking for reviews, these straightforward tips are guaranteed to garner the loyalty you’ve always wanted.
Customer loyalty is impossible to establish without a solid foundation of trust. When your customers trust your products and services, they’re more likely to recommend you to their friends, choose you over competitors, and keep coming back for more.
Traditionally, small business owners have had great success building customer trust (think: Sally getting her hair permed by Kathy every week; John relying on his go-to mechanic, Bill, for any car troubles.) In the past decade, however, trust in small businesses has faltered. It’s not because small businesses are doing anything different, it’s because the internet has transformed the landscape around how we choose and support businesses in our area.
In turn, many businesses have struggled to maintain a consistent presence across in-person interactions and the digital world. Before, a sub-par experience might be resolved by an honest chat with the owner. Today, that same experience can blow up into a 1-star Yelp rant that forever taints people’s idea of your business.
Get In Front of Customers...the Old Fashioned Way
If there’s one crucial element to maintaining consistent customer interactions, it all comes down to a great first impression. Whether its a delicious meal or a new go-to outfit, nothing reels customers in like a small business who exceeded expectations.
Here are three opportunities for creating mutually-beneficial customer relationships out in the world.
Boost Your Booth Game
Whether it’s a farmers market or a music festival, staking your spot at a local event can put you top of mind for customers in need of your services. In addition to having a place where people can interact with you personally, this is also an opportunity to get product feedback.
For example, you might consider giving away samples of your product if its a food, beverage, or something else consumable. Asking customers questions about what they think also makes them feel valued, which is another way to forge a strong connection.
Do Community and Charity Work
Getting involved with local charity work can showcase your brand values and show your sensitive side. We’re not just talking about donating money to a cause, either. Instead, focus on ways you can actually put in time and effort and interact with local community members (a.k.a., potential customers).
You might consider helping hand out meals at a local shelter, or teaming up with parks and rec to help build a local hiking trail. Whatever it is, make sure your actions come from the heart – your community will notice.
Set up a Referral Program
Some small businesses avoid setting up a customer referral program because they fear it will seem inauthentic or gimmicky. Here’s the truth: when someone has a great experience with something, they’ll want to share that joy with someone they love. So why not take this angle when sharing your referral program?
Show your customers that as a true thank you for their business, you’re helping them benefit in exchange for sharing the love. Give them a discount on their next purchase or offer up a freebie – the most successful referral programs are a true win-win for everyone.
Align Your Digital and In-Person Presence
Have you ever known someone who acts totally normal when you’re alone, but puts on a fake act at parties? This jekyll and hyde situation isn’t reserved just for frenemies – it can happen with business personalities, too.
The most common source of small business inconsistency happens in the struggle between aligning your digital personality with your in-person one. This is especially difficult when your team starts to grow, because you’re not always in charge of every customer interaction.
To keep things rooted in consistent, positive customer communication, this section contains three actionable tips you can start implementing today.
Align Internal Culture with External Messaging
There are some situations where it’s okay to change your rules or tone, like providing free shipping to an unhappy customer. However, constantly flip flopping on your mission and goals from one person to the next spells inconsistency and distrust in the long term.
One way to reinforce your external messaging across both in-person and digital interactions is to find team members who live and breathe your mission. According to Joe Daley of Freelance My Way, which connects high quality freelancers with small businesses, strong employees stand behind every happy customer. “Investing time and money in employees who channel your values and mission is equal to investing in your customers” he adds.
Creating a more rigorous hiring process might seem daunting and time-consuming at first, but it can ensure more consistent and profitable customer experiences down the line. Plus, creating a company culture code and brand voice guide can ensure that everyone is onboarded according to the same guidelines.
Say Thank You, Early and Often
Once you’ve bridged the gap between prospect and customer, it’s important to remind people that you appreciate their business.
As pointed out by Eileen Bell, CEO of the swimwear line Bare Society, a handwritten note is one small gesture with a big impact. “In our digital age, there is no better way to express my appreciation for my customers than a handwritten letter. It is a simple way for me to thank them for their support and remind them that I wouldn’t be where I am without them” Bell explains.
Whether it’s a handwritten letter with every shipment, or a holiday card each year, dropping a note shows that you care about a person’s wellbeing. It also shows that you’re willing to take time out of your day to connect with your customers – something that’s becoming increasingly rare in the digital age.
Boost Rankings with a Positive Reputation
Online reviews are one of the best ways to glean honest customer feedback. But did you know that reviews also play a role in how customers find your business online?
According to Dima Midon, founder of the digital marketing firm TrafficBox, online reviews also play a major role in local visibility. “Reviews for local businesses play an instrumental role in determining SEO page rankings and customer purchase decisions. Having a strong collection of positive reviews is indispensable to your local and global reputation.”
Do your part to create and engage with your online reputation by asking customers for reviews, responding to ratings, and completing your Yelp and Google Local profiles with accurate information.
Building a loyal local customer base requires a masterful blend of both traditional and digital marketing. In addition to nailing face-to-face interactions, you’ll also have to maintain a positive and consistent presence online. For more tips on local marketing, check out the first two installments in our series on social media discoverability and influencer engagement.