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Five Ways to Show Customers You Care Show them love year-round, and they'll return the favor.

By Gail Goodman Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Everyone feels warm and fuzzy around Valentine's Day. That includes entrepreneurs, many of whom use the opportunity to put a heartfelt spin on their e-mail marketing communications.

You probably received e-mails earlier this month from businesses and organizations running promotions tied to Valentine's Day. Others might simply have sent a colorful, light-hearted greeting as a way to tell their customers and members they care.

So what happens now, after the chocolates have been eaten and the roses have withered away? Are you showing customers you appreciate their business all year-round?

Everyone wants to feel valued--particularly when people are making hard choices regarding their wallets. We can't take their patronage and support for granted. Regularly communicating that you care about your customers' success strengthens your connection to them--and differentiates you from competitors who only reach out when they want to sell something.

These five actions will show customers you care long after Valentine's Day is a wrap:

1. Share Your Knowledge
Give away helpful advice in your e-mail newsletter, as well as on your Twitter and Facebook pages--information that will better your readers' lives. Anticipate customers' questions and concerns and offer useful information to educate and guide them. Ask them what they'd like to learn more about from you.

Be different from others who are merely promoting products and services in their communications. Sharing your knowledge gives customers something valuable for free and proves your expertise. It's a win-win.

2. Ask, Listen, Respond, Adapt

  • Ask customers what's on their minds regularly. That includes their satisfaction with their most recent sales or service experience and with your employees, as well as their general impressions of your business. Invite feedback at multiple contact points--via e-mail communications, online surveys, on your website, after online sales and on paper sales receipts. Keeping a finger on your customers' pulse is good for the heart--and bottom line--of your business.
  • Listen to what customers are saying about you in surveys, on Twitter or Yelp, or anywhere else they give feedback. Publish survey results and answers to customer questions in your e-mail newsletter. Create a sense of community around your business based on dialogue with your customers.
  • Respond to customers promptly when they contact your business, whether it's a complaint or a compliment. Show them you're listening and that you care. If there's a problem, fix it so they can go away happy to return to your business.
  • Adapt your business based on customer feedback to better meet their needs. Communicate the changes you're making based on what they've asked for.

3. Reward Customers

  • Coupon: A coupon can go a long way in this economy. Use your e-mail communications to offer coupons that stimulate business and give cash-strapped customers a break.
  • Gift: Everyone loves a freebie. Offer a small branded gift as part of a promotion. Give customers something that helps them remember--and love--your brand.
  • Information: Offer a free white paper, guide, or report about your industry, products, or services as thanks for signing up for your newsletter.

4. Hold a Customer Appreciation Event
Hold a "VIP Night" in your store or office. It could be a free seminar, early-bird sale, special access to new products, or a get-together with entertainment or a guest speaker. Promote your event in your e-newsletter and with links on social media websites so no one misses out.

5. Do Good
Get your business involved with a nonprofit or charity. Invite other local businesses and the community to participate. Use your newsletter and social media to tell customers about the cause you support. If you can, donate a portion of the proceeds from sales to the charity or match your customers' donations. Another option is to hold a fundraising event. Remind people when they patronize your business that they're doing something good.

Do these things again and again.

Showing customers you care should be an ongoing communications effort--not a once-a-year occasion the way we celebrate Valentine's Day. Whatever you do, be sincere. Customers can spot hype a mile away. Here are some additional hints to take to heart:

  • Don't pass off promotional content as editorial content. Give your audience something valuable and useful in every e-mail newsletter.
  • Only make promises you can stand by. Make sure employees understand your brand promise and communicate with them as you would with customers.
  • Remember what your mother told you: If you make a mistake, say you're sorry. Then make things right.
  • Offer your contact information in every communication so customers can let you know when they're dissatisfied--and when you've exceeded their expectations.

Customers demand more than good products and services. They want you to care about them and the world we live in. Show them you care all year long and you're more likely to win their hearts . . . and their business.

Gail Goodman is the author of Engagement Marketing: How Small Business Wins In a Socially Connected World (Wiley, 2012) and CEO of Waltham, Mass.-based Constant Contact Inc., a provider of email marketing, event marketing, social media marketing, local deal and online survey tools and services for small businesses, associations and nonprofits.

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