Unless you’re fortunate enough to offer a product or service that is unavailable anywhere else on the planet, your customers are going to have choices when it comes to spending their hard-earned cash. As a local business, you have some advantages in that you have physical proximity to your customers, and knowledge of their specific needs. You have some big disadvantages¬ too–like trying to provide a modern customer experience without spending a fortune.
Podium recently did a survey of more than 2,000 American adults aimed squarely at finding out what is important to people when they deal with a local business. Here are 5 key findings:
1. An incredible 67% of respondents said they are more likely to be loyal to a business that makes it convenient to be a repeat customer.
Customers want their experience to be easy – as though your business is a trusted friend. To encourage the feeling of convenience, your business must be proactive – contacting the customer in advance of their need to “check in” on them, demonstrating your commitment to their happiness with your products and services. The telephone is the usual tool for such contact, but it needs to be done carefully.
People are inundated with solicitation phone calls. Calls from your business need to be personal (from the business itself, not a hired solicitor) and more of a “check-in” than a sales call. Ensure that the call originates from your business, and that the caller identity is not blocked – people often ignore unknown numbers.
Social media and Text Messaging (SMS) can be leveraged as a communication tool if your target market is on the young side. Respondents to the survey aged 18-34 were approximately twice as likely to be more loyal to a business that employs these technologies.
2. Respondents are influenced by being able to connect directly with a customer representative (60 %).
You would think that local businesses have an advantage here, in that their size means fewer employees and access to the right person at the right time. This isn’t always the case. Nothing is more frustrating to a customer than to be stuck in a voicemail queue on the phone. Ensuring that telephones are answered by human beings whenever possible, and that every effort is made to ensure that customer representatives are available will help your business build loyalty.
In fact, 20 percent of survey respondents set five minutes as the maximum time they would spend looking to a business for a solution before they move on, and 48 percent expect a response within 30 minutes of first contact.
3. 47% of respondents indicated that a business where people know them by name inspires their loyalty.
This can be tricky. It’s relatively easy for a sole proprietorship with few customers to keep track of all their customers, but as your business grows, your client list expands, and you hire new staff, it gets harder and harder to maintain the “personal touch” with everyone. Using a customer database can help. Perhaps your whole staff doesn’t know every customer’s name, but they can find out all the pertinent information (shipping, billing, purchase history) at the drop of a hat, and encourage their loyalty by offering exceptional customer service that way.
4. Clients like to be able to chat with Customer Representatives Online (33%).
This seems counterintuitive – don’t people prefer dealing with local businesses because of personal communication? Well, yes they do. But thanks to products like Webchat, it’s inexpensive and easy for businesses of all sizes to implement live chat.
For a local business, this means that a web interface needs to be open and “on” all the time, with an employee able to respond to the chat request. Our Webchat product is the perfect solution for local businesses that want to provide online convenience while still encouraging walk-in customers.
5. 28 % of those surveyed said they appreciate businesses that proactively remind them of special orders by mail.
This is perhaps the easiest of the criteria in the top five to fulfill. Maintenance of a customer database is at the heart of successful promotion. Businesses should have a schedule for regular mailings (both online and “snail mail” are effective – but customers should be given an opportunity to opt in or out of physical mailing, to avoid excess cost and negative impact on the environment. A balance, of course, needs to be struck between communication and sales. People prefer to feel like they’re being made aware of a great deal, not being “sold” one.
In the age of global competition, local business owners have to evolve to changing consumer habits. With a little creative marketing and an emphasis on customer service, any business can stand out. Customer loyalty can still be created by putting the customer first in everything you do.