How to Build Customer Loyalty

Loyal customers are the best. Not only do they return, they also rave about your products to friends. Many businesses increase loyalty by asking for feedback and involving customers in decisions. You can achieve this too.

Exceeding Expectations

Customers who have a mediocre experience with your business don’t really care beyond the transaction itself. They rush through checkout, and no real relationship with them can develop. Because of this, you’ll receive hardly any feedback, which you need to secure and grow your business.

Time to raise the bar.

Start by consistently exceeding the basic expectations of your customers. Pleasantly surprise them with quality products and great service. Only then will the image of an underperforming business fade and the path to deeper customer engagement open up.

What that would look like? Read on and find out.

Creating a Customer Community

When people are getting excited about how you run your business, you have given them a reason to care about you beyond the transaction. All of a sudden, customers might be open to joining a brainstorm session and discussing product ideas, for example.

In order to host these collaboration events for groups, we’ll need to provide participants with a place to meet and an environment where customer feedback leads to tangible improvement.

It takes 8 steps to build and run a customer community:

  1. Put your ear to the ground
    First, we should uncover what drives your customers. Which concerns and interests do they share that led them to your business? Is it a specific subject matter, like traveling or owning property? Does it revolve around the area they live in? Or is the group tied together by a certain mindset, such as caring for the environment? Do their likes and dislikes change over time? Listen to what customers are saying to you directly, on the phone and in the store. But also pay attention to what they are sharing and discussing publicly.
    • Constantly monitor social media
    • Keep an eye on Google Search Trends
    • Stay in the loop of the national and local news
  2. Provide customers with a place to meet
    Now that we’ve pinpointed what to focus on, you should provide your customers with a designated place to discuss these topics. Launch an online forum, start a social media account, organize in-person events, or combine these options. Whichever route your take, clearly demonstrate where and how customers can participate. At the same time, prevent the public conversation from splintering. This happens when people talk about the same topic on different channels without noticing each other’s contributions.
  3. Communicate clear guidelines
    Online, people occasionally veer off-topic or misbehave. In-person events are usually more civil and easier to moderate. Both benefit from collectively agreeing to a code of conduct. Communicate your community guidelines upfront, either at account registration or at the start of an event. To keep guidelines easy-to-digest and predominantly encouraging, consider including these sections in this particular order:
    • Your mission and goals for the community
    • Your core values, such as mutual respect and inclusivity
    • Behavior you encourage (“please do…”)
    • Behavior you frown upon (“please do not…”)
    • Your predictable response when guidelines are breached
    • How community roles are assigned
  4. Assign a community team
    You uncovered what your customers want to talk about, and you have given them the means to engage. Rarely, though, will a new community instantly bustle with activity and manage itself. You need dedicated employees to kickstart the conversation and, once the crowd starts talking, monitor what is being said. Most businesses with a successful community have assigned a team to manage it.
    • Community Manager
      Oversees community strategy, defines guidelines, and resolves escalating issues
    • Moderator
      Keeps track of community activity, livens up conversations, and intervenes when guidelines are breached
    • Stakeholder Manager
      Promotes the community within the organization and acquires collaboration projects
    • Application Manager
      Ensures platform uptime and implements new technical features
    • Content Creator
      Publishes content to spark discussion
    • Performance Analyst
      Measures the impact of your content and community efforts
  5. Introduce a content calendar
    Managing a community often involves improvisation and responding to matters as they arise, such as removing hate speech. However, many types of content and events can be planned and prepared ahead of time. By doing so, you avoid being hijacked by unpredictable, last-minute issues all the time. I highly recommend setting up a content and event calendar to help visualize when relevant holidays, celebrations and other meaningful dates are coming up. Planning ahead for a timespan of 3 months should be sufficient.
  6. Kickstart the conversation
    As mentioned before, to ignite discussion among customers, you rely on publishing thought-provoking content, organizing meetups, and moderating conversations that fall silent or derail. However, as a Moderator, you should avoid putting yourself in the spotlight more than necessary. Give people the opportunity to create their own community. And only join the conversation when your contribution is expected or will leave a lasting impression.
  7. Get from behind your desk
    That’s right, you heard me. Force yourself to step out of the comfort zone of the office environment at least once a week. Go explore! Meet people where they go or invite them over. It might surprise you, but this single ingredient could turn an unresponsive community into a lively one. Meeting someone in-person or visiting a certain place can change the perspective and appreciation of everyone involved in ways that online platforms are incapable of.
  8. Track your performance
    Knowing how well your community is doing should not depend on gut feeling or personal opinion. If you are unable to provide yourself or management with performance data, your community will eventually lose its viability. To begin reporting on community performance, create a benchmark. A benchmark is a dataset that describes the state your business is in before launching a community, or before changing the strategy of an existing one. Only include benchmark data that you can reasonably affect with your community efforts. For example, the number of ideas submitted by customers, or the percentage of customer ideas turned into approved product changes.

Involving Customers in Decisions

Up to this point, we have talked about launching and managing a new customer community. We have lowered the barrier for customers to connect with your employees and each other. And silent bystanders are able to witness these reputation-boosting interactions.

Great, now what?

The whole purpose of fostering a community around your business is to tap into the pulse of the street and show that you listen.

When customers see that you listen to their concerns, they are more likely to view subsequent product updates as a joint effort. Support for decisions born from collaboration will be stronger than if you were to launch products or introduce changes abruptly and one-sidedly.

Asking for customer input can be done in 2 ways:

  • Enable customers to submit new ideas
    As customer ideas enter your digital suggestion box, communicate clearly which ideas you will and won’t pursue. It’s wiser to commit to a handful of the best ideas than to spread yourself thin trying to appease everyone.
  • Invite customers to participate in decision-making
    For example, with interviews or brainstorm sessions. When you bring people together, it’s important to guide the group conversation in the direction you want.
    • Generative dialogue
      Participants set aside their original views, really listen to each other, and work together to find solutions.
    • Dialectic
      Participants defend their viewpoints with facts while trying to find common ground and compromise.
    • Debate
      Participants try to overpower opponents, emotions run high, and conversations can derail.

For increased reputation, show the rest of the world how a relatively small group of customers is helping you shape the future of your business. Be creative, and put a spotlight on these collaborative efforts. It’s the easiest, most authentic marketing slam dunk imaginable.

Wrap Up

Building a customer community is valuable but takes work. When you consistently exceed expectations, listen closely, and involve customers in decisions, they will become more loyal to you. Engaged customers keep coming back and tell others about their positive experiences, helping drive business growth. Which topic of conversation would bring your customers together?

Rogier van de Zande
Rogier van de Zande

With over 20 years of experience in the corporate world, I help organizations with customer engagement, project management and team coaching. I hold a college degree in business information. And I’m a certified Lean Green Belt and Agile Scrum Master.