It's so much cheaper to keep a customer than to find a new one, that for a small business it's perhaps the most vital ingredient for a healthy future.
So how do you keep customers? Price is the most important factor for many shoppers and some businesses trade exclusively on that. But there are two problems with this as a long-term strategy: firstly, most customers don't decide where to buy on price alone; and secondly, those that do will eventually be worn down by an apparent lack of care by the seller.
Excellent customer service is the foundation stone on which to grow your online business. In this day and age, when so many companies give poor (or simply neglectful) service, it's also a fantastic way to stand out from the crowd.
It's not a short-term strategy; it should be a permanent, long-term mission statement. Being friendly, efficient and above all helpful may not immediately get you more sales, but it will help to persuade customers to return and it will encourage them to recommend your business to friends and family.
I'd like to re-emphasise the word helpful. Go out of your way to help your customers. Distinguish yourself from companies with robotic staff who parrot the usual line, not intending, or caring whether they really help. Actually solve problems, don't just sympathise; offer real solutions, not just a goodwill gesture.
Above all, contact your customers to check if they're happy. That’s what the restaurant trade calls the “two minute check-back”, and it works brilliantly when the waiting staff are properly trained – it allows them to check that everything is okay with the customer's meal and experience, but it's also a great opportunity to offer more drinks and get more sales.
Whatever you do, don't hide behind your website. You may not have that bricks and mortar store, but it's no excuse for zero interaction. Publish your phone number clearly; interact with customers through email and social media; contact them frequently for that “two minute check-back”.
The customer may not always be right, but they are always the king, and if you invest the time and effort to treat them like royalty then you'll be creating the conditions for a long-term, thriving businesses.
Copyright © 2014 Simon Michels is a director of Photo Productions.