|You want to avoid your customers doing this!|
In business it is both cheaper and easier to keep a customer than it is to get a new one. Think about your own buying habits for a minute. We’re inclined to stick with what we know, what we can rely on, what is familiar. Usually the only thing which keeps us from sticking to the same brands and products is when something comes along to shake it up. The price changes significantly, the quality changes, that item is no longer stocked locally, or we are enticed (through various means) to try something different. Brand loyalty is not just something we all really want, it’s something we should be actively working on. With so many people getting into the cake business, we can’t rely on being the only supplier in town anymore. Instead we’ve got to cultivate relationships with our clients so that they become loyal to our brand and return to us time and again.
So – how do you build a loyal following of clientele, ensuring repeat business?
You work on developing and maintaining lasting relationships and connections with both your clients and your potential clients. In specific, here’s how I did this in my business:
I was consistent. I delivered what I said I would, when I said I would, how I said I would. I gave them expectations and then met them. Every. Single. Time. This sounds SO simple but it’s amazing how many companies don’t do this. Human beings LOVE the familiar – that’s why McDonald’s and all other franchises work so well globally. People know exactly what to expect AND they have those expectations met every time they walk into that franchise, no matter where they are in the world. McD’s fries taste the same everywhere for a very good reason! In my case, the process for ordering, the love and care they got throughout the order, and the attention they got all the way to the end was always the same. They knew what to expect of me, my business, my employees and the products they were getting. If for some reason I couldn’t deliver on something I said I would, I called and told them. I also told them how I was going to fix it so that again I set expectations and I met those expectations.
I almost always went that little bit further for my customers, and people remembered being loved that little bit more. The bit extra was something simple – I’d help them to the car with the cake, offer to refer them to a good photographer, gave them some websites to look for cool cake toppers, gave them some birthday candles, gave them a free gluten free cupcake for that one guest who needed it. Every single cake that went out the door of my shop also had a good quality plastic cake server attached to it which had my company name and phone number printed on it. They cost me something like 11c to have made, but I can’t tell you how often people told me they loved their free gift (and some even washed and brought them back to me because they thought they were worth a lot more than they were.) I gave my clients a bit of extra love and people remember being loved.
I communicated with them. I stayed in contact and not just via social media. I wrote a monthly newsletter and encouraged people to sign up for it. I’d start each newsletter with a “letter” telling them what was happening in the shop and thanking them for their ongoing support and custom, I’d usually have a few pictures of recent cakes I was proud of, plus I listed the upcoming class timetable. If I had one, I’d include a special deal or an offer, but plenty of newsletters were just newsy and fun. Every month the newsletter got sent, so every month those clients were reminded about my business directly into their inbox. Even if they missed my Facebook post or tweet, it was hard for them to miss the email right in their inbox. We all know how much the reach of social media is declining, and newsletters give you an immediate invitation to be in front of the very people whose eyes you want to be in front of. (Shameless plug: this blog has a newsletter too. Please sign up for it on the top of this page. 🙂 )
I cultivated the super loyal ones – at the end of the year I went through my order book and made a list of all those clients who ordered more than once that year. I then emailed them individually, giving them a voucher for 25% off their next order. Why did I give a discount to people who would order from me anyway? Because I truly wanted to thank them for CHOOSING ME when they could have chosen any number of people, and it encouraged them to come back again and tell their friends about it. They deserved a reward for loyalty and they got it – which in turn usually made them love me a bit more. Win/Win.
I followed up. I asked EVERY SINGLE PERSON how they heard about my business. If it was referral, I asked who referred them – I then contacted that person and thanked them personally (usually by phone, sometimes by email) for supporting my business. That’s it. A thank you. Why? Because I really was grateful and they deserved that gratitude and love and it also encouraged them to keep on referring me. I ran a small, personal business – so I gave people small acts of personal gratitude. One option might have been for me to give a reward for the referrers but I was indecisive about what to give so that didn’t happen (it should have. I let my indecisiveness get in the way.)
I was authentic. I let my own life into my business a tiny bit. No, I don’t share a lot of my personal life with my clients – but if they mentioned having twins or triplets, or going through IVF, or having travelled to the US recently, or loving a certain type of food I loved or anything at all I could relate to, I’d tell them a story about my own life. It meant they got to know me, and allowed them to feel they were a part of my (business) family. More often than not they would mention it the next time they saw me. “Hey Michelle, how’s your Mom? Is she still into ballroom dancing? Because I just won a silver medal, too!” “Hey Michelle did you end up doing the Minecraft cake for your son that we talked about? Because my younger son now wants one.” They remembered to come back to my business in part because they remembered me and our shared interest.
I asked for feedback and I acted on it. This is so important and yet SO forgotten about. I used an external review website for my business and asked everybody to leave a review for me there. I attached a “please review us,” flyer to every single order, and as a result I had well over 100 reviews on that website. Those reviews gave the people reading them a sense of ALL of the above – because in those reviews my clients talked about the service, the love, the consistency, the communication. They told potential clients exactly what to expect from me…but it didn’t come FROM me, so it was even more powerful a message. This wasn’t me taking the time to toot my own horn, it was other people taking the time to do it. I replied to every single review on that website. Every one. Why? Because they took the time, so they deserve my thanks in return – and it showed readers that I was engaged with my clients long after the last bite of cake had been eaten. Added bonus of that review site was that I learned a lot about what was working well and what needed improvement in my business…so again, a win/win situation.
Here’s the really important part:
I have a very simple theory about repeat customers, and it goes like this:
If it looks good, people will buy it at least once.
If it tastes good, people will buy it a second time.
If it looks good, tastes good and it makes them feel good, you’ve got a customer for life.
Make sure you’re doing all three of those, and repeat customers will become not only your livelihood… but also your marketing team. No money in the world can buy loyalty like that.