Shell Haffner, Xerox Corporation

Most of us in business would probably agree: customer retention/loyalty is critical. That is especially true for small businesses where sustained growth is paramount.

The Loyalty Research Center defines customer loyalty: “…loyalty means a customer wants to do business with you and does.” Bottom line: loyal customers stick with you through the good times and bad. The lowest-price-hunters will defect to your competition.

One key to keeping customers is to be true, i.e., be human. Potential customers can easily compare your small business to the competition with pricing and more. In a recent report detailing shopping behavior in stores, Vibes Research found that one-third of smartphone shoppers did competitive comparisons while in the store. If you are carrying the same product brands, the only substantial difference you can offer to that prospect (besides price) is customer service. The one-to-one experience makes the difference. Hyatt Hotels understands this notion well. Read about Mark Hoplamazian’s Quantifying the Value of Customer Service in Knowledge@Wharton. Hyatt found that satisfied customers are 2-3 times more likely to return than neutral or unsatisfied customers.

I frequent a certain sandwich shop because of the personal attention I receive. The employees  remember what I usually order, they ask about my day, and they note my absence. It’s this human connection that keeps me coming back. Frankly, there are plenty of other sandwich shops offering the same basic options, some even  at lower prices. I choose “my” shop for the people and the personal attention.

To underscore the point, some of the most successful sites selling online give the appearance of human interaction. Amazon and Netflix, for example, have their “recommendations for you.” One of the 5 Universal Principles For Successful eCommerce Sites by Smashing Magazine cites the need for using social media content before, during, and after the sale, such as letting customers comment on the products to potential customers. Again, a human interaction about your small business.

Charlie Kindel, a former Microsoft executive, once stated, “A human sales person, acting 1:1 with a customer is an extremely powerful force.” That power can convince customers to return or can send them running. YOU and your interaction with customers can be that positive force.

Other than pleasantries, how do you interact with customers to keep them coming back? We’ll tackle that question in my next article, “Do you know your customers?”