Customer loyalty is always important. But for some trying to survive at the tail-end of COVID, it might literally be a lifeline. That’s why it’s so important that your small business nurture big loyalty starting right now.

Here are some fast facts for you:

Chances are, your own experiences with loyalty programs will tell you just how important they are. Do you go to a restaurant or coffee shop that offers rewards like a free coffee with a punch card? Do you earn rewards points through a credit card – and do you frequent places that give you more points? Do you like feeling as if you’re part of a club when you join any membership, either online or in a store?

Do you go out of your way to frequent these stores because you have a loyalty card?

Those are the types of experience you want to create for your customers, too. And by the way, loyalty programs are not just for the big companies. Your small business can build big loyalty several ways including:

  1. Connect with Customers Through Social Media
  2. Create a Customer Reward Program
  3. Create a Members-Only Club
  4. Ask for Customer Feedback
  5. Share Your Story

1. Connect with Customers Through Social Media

Connect with customers through social media for better customer loyalty.Yes, you’ve heard this one before – even within this blog! But it is so true. If you want to sell to most of your customers these days, you need to connect through social media.

Note though that the emphasis here though is connecting and not selling. Think of social media as a cocktail party. You are there to talk to people on a social level, not necessarily a business one. People will eventually ask what you do, of course. In the case of social media, they’ll find out by clicking on links or reading information in your About page or section – so make sure your social media accounts tell your story! And, like cocktail parties, nobody is going to mind if you celebrate your small business victories from time to time – they’ll likely celebrate with you.

But the hard sell is out for the most part. Wrapping your mind around “how to sell without selling” can be bewildering if you’re not used to it. So here’s an example of how REI, an outdoor store/co-op, approaches its Twitter feed:

Notice that there is very little in terms of “hard sell” posts. Most promote what other people are doing or provide links to blog posts on information their customers want to know about. One tweet links to a post in March 2021 about water bottles. Very little (if any) of the content is hard sell – though of course the discussion is around items that REI can sell to you. If readers are interested (and they should be once they read your blog post), they know where to find you.

Connecting with customers through social media such as this can help boost customer loyalty for your small business if you:

  • Talk about things that your customers care about (such as hiking)
  • Keep the conversation relevant to your business (such as water bottles for REI)
  • Don’t hard sell – keep it social but don’t be afraid to tell people on occasion about sales, changes to store hours, or anything else your customers truly want to know about

And, as we mentioned in a previous post, you can engage your customers by encouraging them to post images on social media using your products.

2. Create a Customer Reward Program

The Starbucks App encourages customers to come back. You can make this work for your small business loyalty program too!Large companies such as hotel chains, airlines, and credit cards offer customer points rewards to encourage return business. And, it works! Bank of America reports that customers in its Preferred Rewards program spend 45% more.

But small businesses can take a page from their book though by creating your own loyalty reward program, including:

  • A points system where customers earn points with every purchase which they can put towards gift certificates or items once they reach a certain level
  • Punch cards for things like “Buy 10, Get 1 Free” (great for coffee shops, ice cream parlors, and other similar products you may sell daily to a customer)
  • Discounts for customers who share posts or rate you on social media
  • Birthday rewards such as a free gift (product or promotional item)
  • Special members-only discount days or events (see below)
  • A coupon for a specific discount or special gift on their next visit

If you want to get really high tech, you can get a special app created for your business fairly inexpensively these days that your customers can download, too. (Think: the Starbucks app.)

The whole idea is to make your customers feel special, feel appreciated for their patronage, and feel happy to return to your business again and again.

Bonus tip: if you’re running a punch card program, offer to hold the card for them in a small business card holder (or similar container) at the counter. Too often, people will lose their card – and therefore lose their reason to go out of their way to visit your store. Not only do you take some of that stress away and make it easier for them to visit, they’ll literally be leaving a little piece of themselves at your store.

Bonus-bonus tip: for first-time buyers, give them an extra punch to feel extra special!

3. Create a Members-Only Club

Sephora's members-only club encourages more customers and more sales.We all joke about be a card-carrying member to some sort of oddball thing – a card-carrying basketball mom, puzzle fanatic, or (insert your guilty pleasure here).

The thing is, being a card-carrying member does make you feel special. Why not create that same specialness for your customers?

There are a ton of ways you can do this from actual cards to signup forms on your website. The rewards you give could be:

  • Special events and discounts not publicly announced
  • Daily, weekly, monthly, and/or yearly specials or gifts
  • Entry into a members-only section of your website
  • Hosted social events (think a hobbyist group, if that applies to your business, or special VIP after-business events at a local watering hole, for example)
  • Discounts at other businesses, which is also a way you can connect your businesses with other complementary businesses 

Basically, any sort of exclusive information, gifts, discounts, or VIP treatment you can provide would be perfect for this type of loyalty program. One example (though not a small business) is the Sephora Beauty Insider Rewards Bazaar. This combines several aspects of a rewards program including VIP treatment, specials, points rewards, and more.

Another key benefit of this type of members-only club is that signup is required. That means you have a direct connection with your customers through their contact information.

4. Ask for Customer Feedback

Asking for customer feedback on your small business helps make your customers feel more connected.This doesn’t seem like a customer loyalty program, but it is. Sure, feedback is a great way for you to find out what your small business is doing right and what it could do better. But it is also another way that customers can connect with your business. Plus, you’re making them think more about your business, about their customer experience, and about how you can make it better. They instantly feel part of your business (if they choose to give feedback) and appreciate their ideas being heard.

Often, businesses will combine customer feedback with incentives as well such as a draw to win a gift or money, a discount on their next purchase, and so on.

You can ask for customer feedback on your small business in a number of ways including:

  • Feedback cards
  • Google or Yelp reviews
  • Social media shout-outs (Facebook, etc.)
  • Through an online survey form – SurveyMonkey is a good free option
  • Testimonial for your website
  • By email
  • Through an automated feedback request (if you sell via ecommerce)

5. Share Your Story

Share your story to increase your customer loyalty by forming a closer connection between them and your small business.Okay – here’s one you might not have seen coming! But never underestimate the power of your own story.

Samantha Plavins of She Walks the Walk tells a compelling story about why she started her movement. Her very poignant – and very relatable – history makes you understand what brought her to where she is today. Most importantly, it shows how she can help other women going through similar transitions in their lives.

When you think about it, it’s obvious: you feel closer to anybody, even total strangers, when you learn more about their history and what makes them who they are today. In the case of small business, that story is even more compelling when you reveal strong emotions like passion and determination to overcome challenges in your business.

What is it about the story of your small business that makes you unique? Everyone has traveled a different road. Share yours – on your website, on a plaque in your store, in a brochure – and people will gain a closer emotional connection with you.

Creating the Loyalty Rewards Program That’s Right for Your Small Business

There are lots of options when it comes to creating the loyalty rewards program that’s right for your small business. Maybe too many options!

If you’re getting stuck or want an outsider’s view of how to nurture big loyalty for your small business, contact Elite Office Solutions. Our marketing team can analyze your business and suggest what might work best for you. Then, we can implement those strategies for you – creating attractive punch cards, designing a social media campaign, or connecting a signup form on your website, etc. – so that you can continue to focus on your small business.

Let’s get you the loyalty rewards program that will boost your sales and keep your customers happy!