Any businessman worth his salary knows that it takes much more effort and resources to acquire a new customer than to sell again to an existing one. While most businesses put large chunks of their resources into marketing and sales, modern business studies reveal that customer retention should be a higher priority.

In competitive verticals, the loss of a customer is a competitor’s gain. One misstep could lead to dramatic shifts in market share. That’s the last thing you want to happen because market share losses have direct, negative impacts on your company’s bottom line.

Thankfully, there’s a lot that can be done to minimize the chances of customers flying the proverbial coop. Most of the time, customer loyalty can be nurtured by doing the smallest things. Here are six of the most effective ways to keep your customers coming back for more:

  1. Have a genuinely good product or service – A bad product can be masked by clever marketing strategies and persuasive sales pitches. However, no amount of rhetoric can hide the fact that it’s awful once a customer starts using it.  The first rule of customer retention is to have a product or service that fulfills its promises. This is the foundation that sets the tone for all other retention-related efforts.

Of course, we shouldn’t confuse “genuinely good” with perfect. A lot of startups fall into the trap of trying to achieve perfection and in the end, never releasing their offering or shipping it way too late. The idea is to have a minimum viable product (MVP) that does what you claim it to do. Keep in mind that success is a function of meeting expectations. Imperfections can be addressed later on as you update or replace the product.

  1. Be a thought leader in your niche – Buyers love to feel smart about their purchasing decisions. By establishing your business as a thought leader in its niche, you can make people feel like they’re associated with a winning brand. Thought leadership can be established by making your brand and its subject matter experts more visible and available to the community. Having them answer frequently asked questions while engaging your audience is a good start.

For full effect, you may want to consider content marketing. This is a form of marketing that leans on the distribution of useful content that serves as a synergy to brand recognition. Blogging, producing whitepapers, uploading videos and being active on social media are all components of a good content marketing study.

  1. Incentivize loyalty – Having a rewards program is a great way to show that you appreciate your customers’ business and that you’re willing to give back. Giving your buyers a freebie after several transactions, giving discounts to people who’ve been buying from you for years or even inviting them to your events can help you strengthen an existing bond with your patrons.
  1. Open a referral program – One of the most underrated factors in purchasing is the social aspect. People tend to buy more from brands that their peers recommend. The more that a certain social group collectively patronizes a brand, the ore loyal they tend to be to it. It’s human nature, after all, to want to be in the majority.

Offering generous rewards to successful referrers of new customers is a great idea. This encourages people to become more active evangelists of your brand while deepening their sense of loyalty to you.

  1. Make customer service reliable – One of the worst things you can make a customer feel is the sense of detachment after you take their money. It’s natural for people to have questions or concerns about the products that they buy. That means you need to have a readily available customer service team that people can lean on.

You don’t have to have a big call center to do it. Startups can use a regular web contact form or chat support software. If you can provide a number that your customers can call, that would be even better.

Courtesy, empathy and a genuine desire to help are the cornerstones of good customer support. Keep in mind that proper handling of tense situations can prevent customers from ending their business relationships with you.

  1. Make customers feel special – Extending that extra effort can go a long way for your customer retention. Sending them greeting cards (with or without freebies) on their birthdays is a good start. These days, it’s common for US companies to send loyal customers some nice treats on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Sometimes, you don’t have to send people anything on special occasions to make them feel that your company cares. A simple email asking about their experience with your product or service is a great gesture. People may not always respond, but when they keep quiet, they mostly mean they’re satisfied.

While there’s no 100% foolproof way to keep a customer, these tips can help improve your batting average. As long as you stay focused on providing genuine value to your market, retention should remain at healthy levels.

By Eddy

Eddy is the editorial columnist in Business Fundas, and oversees partner relationships. He posts articles of partners on various topics related to strategy, marketing, supply chain, technology management, social media, e-business, finance, economics and operations management. The articles posted are copyrighted under a Creative Commons unported license 4.0. To contact him, please direct your emails to [email protected].