The average business loses 15 percent of their clients on an annual basis. It's safe to assume that some customers move away or, if you sell to businesses, some of them may close. But the hard truth is many simply stop coming. That's because you haven't established relationships with those clients. The clients feel no loyalty and no obligation to return.

With the cost of gaining new business five times that of keeping current clients, it's wise to do all you can to keep those people coming back for more.

Even if your product has a long life span and people shouldn't need to replace it for a long time, you still want to work on keeping those clients loyal to you. The reason: They'll tell their friends, relatives and even strangers about what a great experience they had with you. They'll be your biggest fans and provide free advertising for you with their testimonials and referrals.

Building Loyalty
In order to thrive in business, it's important to make each client feel important. If they have a negative feeling--or are even indifferent to your business--they won't feel obligated to continue doing business with you.

You start by being grateful for their business. You and anyone who works for you should make good eye contact with clients and say the words, "Thank you for your business," at least once every time you come in contact. Variations might include: "We appreciate your business." Or, "Your business is important to us." Focus on saying those words so often that they come out as if on reflex. And don't forget to smile when you say them!

Follow up every transaction with a thank-you note. This may sound old-fashioned, but it really works to make them feel important. How many thank-you notes do you receive from people you do business with? I'm sure it's not many. Believe me, people remember those who do send them. If you have someone who has very nice handwriting, that's best. If not, print them out from your computer with a nice, easy-to-read font. Be sure to include a business card with each note.

Schedule a follow-up phone call within a few days of every service or contact. Ask your clients if they're still satisfied with the information or service you provided. Even if you have to leave this in a voice mail, that's okay. You've made the contact. These calls shouldn't take more than a minute or two per client, even if you do reach them in person. If they have a challenge, of course, you'll need to allow time to address it. But it's worth it to get something resolved rather than let it fester with them.

Handling Challenges
When clients do have a challenge with your product or service, listen carefully to what they say. Make notes of the conversation and assure them that you want to get it resolved. Even if you can't resolve it right away, knowing that you listened to them and are making an effort will go a long way toward giving them a positive, loyalty-building experience.

If the challenge takes several days or a week to resolve, call the client daily to let them know your progress. Even if there's no progress, letting them know you're still working on it and keeping them in mind will go a long way toward their satisfaction and repeat business.

Remind Them to Return
If your product or service is something the client should schedule periodically, such as oil changes or carpet cleaning, put a reminder program in place. Send post cards, e-mails or make quick phone calls to get them set up for their next service. This is viewed by clients as a courtesy, not an intrusion.

If you offer add-on services or have added a new feature or option to your service, contact them about that as well. Start with, "Mr. Johnson, we so appreciate your past patronage and think you might benefit from...." State the benefit your add-on service or new product will bring them and ask what they think about it rather than pushing to sell it to them. Their feedback will tell you whether or not it's right for them and whether or not now is the time to consider it. If this isn't a good time, schedule a repeat contact with them when it's convenient for them.

Building client loyalty is all about providing service. The product itself or your time in considering their needs doesn't matter. What does matter is that in order to keep them loyal you have to make them feel important.