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3 simple secrets to earning customer loyalty

Part of our series on the future of Main Street

1. Go the extra mile

When a customer buys something from your business, that's just the beginning. If you want to earn their loyalty, you must keep up with them even after they walk out your door. Your goal is to be the answer to their problems, even if their problems don't directly involve your business.

Nordstrom is famous for its high-caliber customer service and no-questions-asked refund policy. According to lore, the department store once accepted the return of a set of snow tires sans receipt — and Nordstrom doesn't even sell snow tires. The validity of the story has been debated for years. But the lesson remains either way: There is tremendous value in having the reputation of being committed to solving customers' problems even when they're not yours to solve.

Simply paying attention on social media to your customers' wants and needs is one of the easiest ways to implement this tactic today. A social media management system, such as Hootsuite, allows you to get a quick snapshot of all your followers in one place. If you happen upon a customer who mentions he or she is having a tough day, what about sending them a coupon code to use at your business to cheer them up? You could take it a step further and have a treat delivered to them.

If you treat your customers like friends rather than a revenue stream, they're more likely to be loyal to you and refer their friends to you as well.

2. Be responsive

American Airlines is very good at real-time customer service through social media. Take a look at their Twitter feed. What you'll find is hundreds of customer comments and complaints, and American Airlines minutes behind each one with a response. In fact, they're so good at this that many customers have chosen to resolve their issues with the airline through social media rather than wait on the phone for hours on end to try to reach the right person.

You don't have to be an international airline to execute this. It's as simple as monitoring your social media channels for new notifications throughout the day. This is another place a social media management system can help if it's too much for you to handle solo.

Be consistent in your messaging and timeliness to respond. Even if someone just posts a photo to your page thanking you for a great experience with your business, take the two seconds to show your appreciation.

3. Get personal

Personalized, individual tokens to recognize birthdays, anniversaries, and special events are keys to your customers' hearts. A single handwritten note, for example, goes farther than 1,000 mass-printed coupons.

This thread went viral on Reddit when an Ohio mechanic wrote a thank you note to his customer. One commenter even said, "It's little things like this that earn business. If I got this card I would never use another mechanic in my life." All this business owner did was take five minutes of his day to hand write a humble note. It probably earned him a life-long customer.

And there's the infamous Morton's Steakhouse incident of 2011 that still resonates almost four years later. Author and speaker Peter Shankman tweeted at the steakhouse asking if someone would meet him at the Newark airport with a Porterhouse when he landed. Sure enough, when he arrived, a suited waiter hand delivered his requested menu item.

It's all about listening to your customers' wants and needs, whether it's something they mention in the store or a comment they make online. Pay attention and don't be an earless, eyeless business. You don't have to deliver steaks to earn your customers' loyalty. Sometimes all it takes is a response to a message on social media.

Taking a few extra minutes to do something meaningful and unexpected for your customers will do more than just make them smile. There's a very good chance you'll earn their loyalty for life.

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