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Smith: The rules for finding, keeping customers have changed
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Loyalty is a rare commodity.

If pressed to make a list of your most loyal supporters who would be on your roster? Sit down and take a minute to do it. Who is on the list and how long did it take to compile the names?

My list would include, but is not limited to, my wife and son, parents, co-workers and close friends. And, I suppose I would add the dog and two cats. I suspect that they appear to be loyal because I keep their dinner dish filled each day.

As a business owner, one of the goals of the business should be to establish strong relationships with customers. Remember that it is not how many times shoppers come in the door the first time. The key is how many times they come back after the initial visit.

Unfortunately, this goal is not as easy to achieve as it once was some number of years ago.

With the advent of mammoth box stores, e-shopping and 800 numbers, there seems to be an exodus from shopper loyalty. Shoppers are demanding convenience at low prices. Customers have little concern about a merchant inquiring about the grandchildren or if the arthritis is feeling better. Make no mistake about it, the rules for finding and keeping customers have changed. Consequently, I would suggest that businesses view customers as investments.

For instance, if a patron is spending $75 a week in your store, it may not seem like it makes an impact in the big picture. But, multiply that $75 by 52 weeks and it comes to $3,900. Each transaction that takes place in the business with a customer is an opportunity to galvanize a relationship. People are creatures of habit. While shoppers want their convenience, they also desire quality and service as well.

Is your word your bond? Take time to take care of each customer’s problem. So what if it seems trivial in your eyes. It may be a significant problem for the shopper. When the customer leaves the business they should feel like they just had a great shopping experience.

Last week I was in a toy store looking for a particular gift. I asked a sales person if the store had a trendy toy. The clerk replied in an arrogant tone, "Our store wouldn’t dare carry that kind of toy." Well pardon me ma’am for wanting to spend money in your kind of store.

A very good piece of advice that I received early in my career was to always do a job better than I was expected to perform it. I haven’t always accomplished this goal, but I strive to make it happen.

Lastly, remember that making a first impression only happens once. Make the initial impression a good one. Quite often, people believe that perception is reality. The business can make a statement to customers through words, but actions too. Forge the relationship with the customer every day.