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Business management

Eight ways to keep customers coming back

During this period of economic disruption, retaining existing customers is crucial for small businesses to survive. So how do you keep your customer base loyal when national disposable income is reduced?

1. Make communication regular – and engaging

“Maintain regular communication to keep clients updated about the strength of your company and the welfare of your team,” says Amrit Singh, co-founder and managing director of London-based India and Asia travel specialist Transindus. “Use newsletters, blogs and events to keep in touch.”

But your comms should cover more than just business updates and product offers, adds Singh. “As well as engaging them, you should entertain. We conduct live interviews with seasoned travel personalities like Sir Michael Palin and run interactive travel quizzes to raise money for the NHS – the reaction these have had from our customers is brilliant.”

2. Consider offering discounts or incentives

Following on from the government’s Eat Out To Help Out scheme in August, many hospitality businesses have sought to extend discount offers of their own. A group of eight pubs in Cornwall are offering customers an automatic 20% discount off food every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday throughout October.

According to Back To The Local organiser Matt Ferguson, who runs two pubs, the scheme means “everyone gets a chance to benefit from a discount”.

He says the pubs making the investment hope it will encourage people to keep supporting local businesses during the autumn and winter months.

Meanwhile, fitness company GLL made its Better UK fitness app available to the public for free, offering virtual fitness classes and guides. As well as being good for people’s health, it widens the brand’s visibility.

3. Set up a loyalty scheme

You don’t have to be a major supermarket or chain coffee shop to earn loyalty. South Devon-based Ben’s Farm Shop, which has branches in Staverton, Yealmpton, Exeter and Totnes, runs a card-based loyalty scheme that can be exchanged for future purchases or used at the firm’s wine and tapas bar in Totnes. When demand for food delivery peaked during lockdown, loyalty card-holders were able to subscribe to a click-and-collect service.

Loyalty cards are a tried-and-tested way of encouraging consumers to adjust their spending in order to reap rewards. At the same time, such schemes can also help business owners entice more people on to their communications list – helping increase their marketing reach.

4. Invest and expand for longevity

“Consider what you can offer rather than what you can’t,” says Becky Potts, co-owner of Perfect Motion Physio, which offers physiotherapy and related services to clients in Midhurst, West Sussex.

“Shift emphasis if that’s what’s required,” she says. “We moved from physiotherapy with some Pilates to lots of Pilates with some physiotherapy.

“Look at what business opportunities you can carry forward in the long term. Invest in new technology and infrastructure if that’s what you need. Can you record your services? We did that and now our classes are available on demand, helping us to gain clients in New York, New Zealand, France and Ireland.”

Consider what you can offer rather than what you can’t. Shift emphasis if that’s what’s required

Becky Potts
Co-owner, Perfect Motion Physio
5. Honour deals and provide flexible policies

“Extend valid-for periods for vouchers, operate completely flexible cancellation policies, and keep in touch with clients via digital channels,” says Mike Morgan, director of the Welsh Rarebits Collection, a booking and promotions platform for small, independent hotels.

“Through these measures, and lots of social media, we’ve been able to persuade the bulk of our clients to postpone their holidays to future dates with the assurance that their price would remain the same even if hotel and flight prices rose.”

6. Diversify and collaborate to expand your customer base

Alistair Skitt runs the Lord High Admiral, a popular pub in the Stonehouse district of Plymouth, Devon. Where other pubs opted to close or offer takeaway services during lockdown, he decided to rebrand.

“Rebranding as a ‘hub’ instead of a pub, we invited other businesses that could work in a Covid-secure way to share our space. This allowed us to diversify.”

Rebranding in this way allowed the pub to share overheads with similar businesses, as well as sharing each other’s customer base.

“Social media has been key,” says Skitt. “Regular posts – and that means daily, not weekly – are important to keep customers both engaged and informed.

“We’ve also all seen the benefits of networking with other small businesses. Everyone who has worked with us has seen a great crossover of customers and a huge increased reach from their own social channels.”

7. Share your story with your customers

Many businesses are a creative process. Social media is an ideal way to invite customers into your story.

“If you can’t travel to customers because of Covid restrictions, use platforms such as Instagram to do live sessions and keep your customers aware of new products,” says Josh Wilson, director, international wholesale trade, at British Bridal in Wakefield, West Yorkshire.

“Our design team has come up with new designs, which we include in our social media to show the full process of how we go from design to the final creation of a wedding dress.

“This new way of working is a lot of fun and generates a lot of positive feedback from our customers.”

8. Make positive health messaging part of your communication strategy

“Tourism and events companies should ensure that their PR and messaging has resonance with customers during the pandemic, communicating innovative ideas and creating new customer experiences based on the current need for outdoor space, being in nature and in environments that offer safety, security and well-being,” says Dr Rosalind Jones, lecturer in marketing and director of MBA programmes at the University of Birmingham.

Dr Jones points to examples such as holiday villages, campsites and even luxury dining establishments, which have emphasised open space and crowd-free environments in their “staycation” marketing.

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