Five tips for building long-term customer loyalty

Every year, businesses lose an average of 10% to 15% of their customer base, whether in business-to-business (B2B) or business-to-consumer (B2C) relationships. However, there are strategies to reduce these losses.

A person in front of a computer presses a fully satisfied pictogram.

"When faced with the first mistake or a special offer from the competition, or when a more appealing company emerges in the market, customers may leave. Therefore, it is necessary to build their loyalty, to make them enthusiastic, and not merely satisfy them," says Anne M. Schüller, a management expert and speaker who has authored two notable books on customer loyalty: "Zukunftstrend Kundenloyalität: Endlich erfolgreich durch loyale Kunden" and "Bahn frei für Übermorgen gestalter!" (not translated into English). According to her, unconditional loyalty is almost non-existent now, and long-term customer loyalty is an effective way to retain existing customers while attracting new ones at lower costs.

Although dissatisfaction is one of the primary reasons for the departure of many customers, the absence of complaints does not necessarily mean that a company has successfully built long-term customer loyalty. According to a US study, for every customer who complains, 26 others would never voice their dissatisfaction, and the majority of them would eventually leave if the situation does not improve. The dynamics explaining this phenomenon are similar in both B2B and B2C sales. "Companies don't place orders by themselves; there is always a person at the end of the chain," summarizes Anne M. Schüller. In an era where the market offers a wide range of options easily accessible through digital means, merely satisfying customers is no longer sufficient, especially considering that acquiring a new customer costs two to four times more than retaining an existing one. Here are five expert tips for building lasting customer loyalty.

1. Put yourself in the customer's shoes

To stimulate and maintain customer enthusiasm, a company must place them at the center of its strategy. "By partially working in the interest of their customers, companies get trapped in a form of negligence," asserts management expert Anne M. Schüller.

However, this customer-centric approach should not undermine the company's expert position. "When a customer makes a rushed request, it is sometimes better to refuse and suggest discussing it. I have advised a potential client not to enroll in one of my courses because I believed it wasn't suitable for their needs. As a result, they never attended, but employees from another department in their company sought my services, resulting in a contract," explains Eric Bertin, founder of Score Management, a company specializing in sales effectiveness. An honest exchange reinforces the long-term reputation of the company.

2. Be generous

Instead of focusing solely on short-term contracts, Eric Bertin advises cultivating one's network and influence – including outside professional contexts – to constantly generate interest from potential clients. "For example, an entrepreneur can offer their expertise for free to a startup founder. If the company grows, the chances of these young entrepreneurs turning to them for further advice will be high." According to the specialist, being generous also demonstrates that the company is doing well enough not to have to push sales of its products and services.

3. Involve all elements of the company

Regardless of the division of roles within the company, a "customer-oriented" approach requires increased cooperation between departments and decentralized task management.

"A good customer experience necessitates involvement from the entire company, not just the sales managers. This holds particularly true for SMEs, where every employee should care about the customer experience. If a problem is reported, and nobody responds – either due to a lack of organization or because everyone is waiting for management to take the lead – customer enthusiasm is likely to wane. Decentralized management helps prevent such situations as much as possible."

4. Seek customer feedback

Understanding a customer's impressions and intentions does not always happen automatically. "Online feedback allows you to see a summary of the overall impression customers have, but it would be better to directly ask them what can be improved. Take the example of a server making an order mistake. Instead of mechanically offering free coffee, it's better for them to ask the customer what would be appropriate compensation. Not consulting them means deciding on their behalf the severity of the mistake," notes Eric Bertin.

This approach can also help recover a potentially dissatisfied customer who is considering leaving. "In the event of a mistake, simply asking how to rectify it can persuade the customer to stay. Even if they still leave, it will contribute to improving the company's reputation."

5. Anticipate

"Prevention is better than cure": this adage also applies to the business world. "When customer dissatisfaction grows, it is often already too late," says Eric Bertin. Many companies try to improve their image with customers when they notice a problem. However, this problem is often a result of a larger inconsistency that eventually erodes customer enthusiasm towards the offered service or product.


On the theme

Customer attrition rate refers to the percentage of customers who end their relationship with a company within a given period, typically a year. The attrition rate varies from one sector to another and generally ranges between 2% and 8%. However, most experts agree that an attrition rate becomes problematic for the majority of companies when it exceeds 10% per year for an established entity and 15% per year for a startup.

Last modification 05.07.2023

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