Customer Journey

Customer Journey Part 4: Building Customer Loyalty

The goal of the loyalty stage is to get customers to come back to your business and make additional purchases in the future. Success in this stage is a major differentiator between businesses that keep growing year after year and businesses that fail.

It takes a lot of work to get new customers (which you’ve probably noticed by now) and you should never stop doing it. The thing is, you need to build your business on a foundation of customers who keep coming back. Yes, that means splitting your time between nurturing existing customers and bringing in new ones (it’s a lot of work running a business!), but it’s much easier to keep them coming back than it is to get new ones.

Similar to the Conversion stage, the Loyalty stage is largely about making the customer feel they made the right choice when they picked you, except this stage is to get them to keep making more purchases in the future. The more loyal the customer, the more purchases they will make, so instead of buying one item and then leaving, they might buy 5, 10, or 20 items in the next year. You just have to give them a reason and the ability to do so.

Here are some ways to build loyalty in your customers:

Delight the Customer

This first group of tactics is about going above and beyond when providing customer service.

One of the biggest advantages that small businesses can offer is outstanding service and building a relationship with its customers, yet it’s the first place that business owners decide to cut corners when they are stressed or running behind.

  • Provide a product that meets or exceeds expectations – first and foremost, your product needs to be great. The quality of design, materials, finishing, and assembly need to be as good as or better than the customer expected based on your photos, description, and branding.
  • Resolve problems in favor of the customer – when there’s a problem, start with the mindset of “how can I make this customer happy?” If they bought something and changed their mind before you ship it, let them cancel it. If they received it and there’s an issue, be willing to replace or refund it. Forcing someone to take an item they decided they don’t want or denying a refund when it didn’t meet the expectations they had won’t help them.
  • Send the product in attractive and durable packaging – few things are more disappointing than receiving a crushed, damaged box or an item that’s damaged inside that box. Make sure your packaging is durable enough to survive shipping intact and without damaging the items inside. It’s even better if your packaging looks nice.
  • Deliver the package sooner than expected – if you tell the customer it will be there in three weeks, get it there in two weeks or less. If you tell them it will ship next week, ship it this week. Don’t ever hide behind “my shipping time says…” The date posted should be a “worst case, nothing went right, this is when I’ll ship it by”, not how you treat every customer.
  • Say “Thank You” often – start every email with a thank you, such as “thank you for ordering”, “thank you for reaching out to me”, or “thank you for letting me know about your issue.” It starts off the conversation letting the customer know that you appreciate them.
  • Call customers by name – if you know the customer’s name, use it. This also applies to email newsletters (most email software lets you include data fields, like their first name).
  • Admit when you are wrong – the fastest way to earn trust is to admit when you are wrong. There’s nothing wrong with it and it shows the customer you are going to work with them on the problem.
  • Follow through on your promises – if you tell a customer you will do something today, do it today. If you tell them you will do it tomorrow, do it today if you can, but absolutely without fail, do it by tomorrow.
  • Store their login information – on your website, offer the option for a customer to log in so they don’t have to enter their shipping and payment information every time. Make sure their information is secure (you don’t want a credit card scandal!).
  • Offer deals only available to existing customers – write a separate series of emails that only go to people who have bought from you before, perhaps even more than once, and make sure they understand why they are getting this email. Use phrases like “this offer is only for our valued customers” or “to thank you for your recent purchase…”.  Ideally, it’s a single-use coupon that they can’t give their friends and family. It shows that this offer is truly exclusive.

Design your Product Line for Multiple Purchases

When you design your products, always (ALWAYS) think about them as a product line. If it’s done in a way that fits your customer’s needs, it can greatly increase your average order amount and your number of repeat clients.

  • Design products that go together – think of your product line as a core product with multiple items that go with it. If you make a shirt, make a matching jacket and pants. If you make earrings, offer a matching necklace and bracelet.
  • Offer products that can be upgraded or added to – some items can be added on to after the customer gets them home. If you make a sign, offer a stand or ways to add on to it. If you make a jacket, let someone order a heavier lining (maybe even with multiple colors).
  • Regularly add new products – trends change over time. Designs that are popular this year might be something that people won’t even wear next year. If you can prove yourself as always being relevant to the target customer, they will keep buying from you instead of looking for someone else to match the latest style. By adding new products every quarter, you can show your customers how you are evolving, and not be seen as a static business (and while you’re at it, maybe remove a few of those items that are out of style).
  • Include free samples with orders – if you make items that work well in small amounts (like soap and lotions) or in miniature form (like signs or a material sample) you can include a small sample with your orders to show the customer other items you offer. Ideally, it’s something related to what they bought, not just something random you throw in.
  • Offer a reward program for repeat customers – this is a kind of gaming strategy that encourages customers to hit round numbers; for example, you may choose to offer rewards if they order $500 worth of merchandise or placing at least 10 orders of at least $50 over some period of time. The key here is to make it a reasonably high amount, but also one that’s reachable if they buy several times over a couple of months.

Stay Top of Mind

A problem every business has is keeping the customer thinking of them. When someone buys something, after a week or two, they tend to not think of it as “new” anymore and don’t think about where they got it very often.

Your job as a business owner is to keep them thinking about you occasionally (so they place an order) without overdoing it (when they unfollow or unsubscribe). Again, knowing your target customer is key. You need to know how much is too much specifically for them. You want to remind them of how much they love your business so they are more likely to buy again.

Some ways to stay top of mind are:

  • Send great email campaigns – I talked about this in-depth in my email marketing post, but the goal here is to send emails on a regular basis. For loyalty campaigns, the emails should remind the customer of the accessories that go with the items they bought. Most email software will let you tag or segment customers based on purchases they made on your website.
  • Send birthday/holiday emails – related to the item above, send emails specifically for the customer’s special dates. If you know their birthday, anniversary, or children’s birthday, send them emails (or maybe even physical mail) with a special offer. Again, make sure it’s an exclusive that only they can use so it feels special.
  • Maintain a strong social media presence – post authentic, educational, and entertaining content that related to both your business and your target customer on a regular basis.
  • Provide a community – this one is not a tactic for everyone, and is probably more of a special case, not a general recommendation for everyone. It only generates loyal, paying customers in some situations, when your target customers want to talk about whatever it is they have in common.
  • Retarget ads – Facebook and Google both let you send ads to people who have bought from you before.

Constantly Improve

You needed to develop a certain amount of skill to even open a business. The level of skill needed to stay in business after competitors see what you’re doing and try to beat you is even higher. Expect to constantly work on your business skills if you want to stay in business.

Some ways to improve:

  • Watch your reviews – read your reviews carefully. See what customers like and dislike… do more of what they like and less of what they dislike. The hard part is catching outliers… the random person who isn’t your target customer and doesn’t like what you make, but bought it anyway (maybe for a gift or for a special occasion). Ignore these.
  • Watch your competitors’ reviews – this is another way to learn what customers like and dislike. The same caveat about outliers applies here.
  • Develop your employees – make sure all of your employees have the right mindset. If they are making product, instill in them the “how can I do this better and faster” mindset. If they have customer contact, then instill the “how can I help?” mindset.
  • Develop your skills – whatever you make, constantly work to make it better and better. That way, whatever someone buys today, the next one they buy will be even better.
  • Send customer surveys – find out what kind of experience your customers had. It should be really simple: “Would you recommend us to someone else?” and if they say no, ask “what could we do to make your experience better?”


Beginning business owners focus on getting customers to buy. More experienced business owners know that they need to go above and beyond to get loyal customers who buy over and over.

To continue learning about the Customer Journey, see the overview post to see how they all tie together and the post on the next stage, Customer Advocacy.

If you want to keep the discussion going and get several tips on running your business every week, join my Facebook Group (and be sure to answer the questions… I only accept new members who answer them).