4 Ways to Gain Customer Loyalty Stand out on the cheap with superior customer service.

By Ray Silverstein

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

I recently dined at a very old, very famous restaurant in Chicago. I've been pondering the subject of customer service ever since.

This restaurant--let's call it The Old Gray Mare--was once the gold standard of American seafood restaurants. It was celebrated for its outstanding menu, classic decor and responsive service. When you made a reservation there, you could count on having an exceptional evening.

This time around, it was anything but. Thank goodness I had a lively dining companion; otherwise the evening would have been a total disaster. The decor was outdated, the food was average and the wait service was slow and unresponsive. The Old Gray Mare--she ain't what she used to be.

This is a perfect example of what not to do in business. Don't take your customer or market position for granted. Don't let your service capabilities slide. Don't coast on your reputation while allowing your brand to deteriorate. Inevitably, it will catch up with you.

Evaluate Your Business
What is your customer experience like? Are you "wowing" key customers with personalized service? With so much business occurring online, wows aren't easy to come by these days. To make your company top of mind, you must find ways to build vibrant personal customer relationships, even in the digital age.

It's not enough to provide decent service--that's expected. Poor service certainly will get you noticed--but with negative results. Case in point: you won't find me at The Old Gray Mare ever again.

Your brand is only as good as your last touch with the customer. While small businesses don't have the marketing dollars to create major brand awareness, they do have the ability to craft a brand in their target market by providing service excellence. That's how you achieve top of mind. That's how you earn last look on proposals.

4 Ways to Gain Customer Loyalty

  1. Ensure you have the right people . If you've been tolerating an unenthusiastic service representative, get them out of that role ASAP. They're hurting your business. Remember, there is plenty of talent to choose from right now.
  2. Offer a customer service refresher course . Get your employees focused on your customers. Put incentives in place and recognize above-and-beyond service.
  3. Review your workflow. Look at your processes from your customers' point of view. Are you inconveniencing customers because of systems limitations?
  4. Listen to customer complaints. Fix problems fast and bend over backwards to make things right. Customers can do you a huge favor when they offer valid, eye-opening feedback, even if it's not what you want to hear.

The current business environment is difficult, but now is the time to enhance your customer relationships. When things improve, you'll reap the harvest. Providing great customer service is not expensive, in fact, it's cheaper since it spares you the labor of making corrections, issuing credits, mending fences, etc. But, most importantly, you'll keep your customers coming back.

We are always eager to land new business, but now's the time to focus on retaining existing customers, too.

Ray Silverstein is the president of PRO: President's Resource Organization , a network of peer advisory boards for small business owners. He is author of two books: The Best Secrets of Great Small Businesses and the new Small Business Survival Guide: How to Survive (and Thrive) in Tough Times . He can be reached at 1-800-818-0150 or ray@propres.com .

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