When you are trying to build a small business, there seems to be a wide array of things that absolutely need your attention. And it’s true. Small business owners are ultimately “the buck stops here” individuals in their organizations, but when you start to pick apart all the necessary elements of business: production, marketing, accounting, you end up getting down to the nitty gritty of what a small business owner absolutely must focus on for effective brand marketing. And it all comes to one thing: your customers. You can be amazingly efficient, the king of marketing spin, and a real whiz kid with numbers, but if you don’t have a loyal customer base you’ll burn out fast.

Researchers have shown that it takes an average of seven exposures to your product or service to convince a potential customer to buy. The work and money it takes to get to that first purchase is phenomenal. You don’t want to have to redo all that work every time they make a purchase. A small business owners main job is to develop customer loyalty. But how do you do it? Here are a few key points that you need to do to ensure that your customers are loyal and happy to spread the word about how great you are.

1. Customer Service

No one wants to think that their product or service is going to have potential problems, but that’s simply not reality. Unless you have a customer base made up of something other than humans, you’re going to have problems. Preparing for how you deal with them, BEFORE they happen, is the key to excellent customer service.

Your customers want to know that you are out to make their experience a good one, that you’ve got their back, and that you’re worth putting their trust in. Do this by being available, open to conversation, and using respectful dialogue. The customer might not always be right, but as a business owner you need to do everything you can to listen to their experience and “make it right” if you can.

Research shows that you only get one opportunity to get customer service right. So, develop your plan and train your team in how to deal with errors, misunderstandings, and proper personal interaction before you ever get your first call.

2. Shared Values and Beliefs

Research shows that in today’s market it isn’t companies that inspire loyalty, it is beliefs. Customers are looking for marketing that speaks to their values and beliefs, not simply ease. They want a product that honors who they are at their core while filling their needs.

This core value marketing doesn’t have to be over the top, but it does need to be visible and it needs to be consistent. If you make using recycled products a part of your production process, repeat that dedication in your marketing. Use recycled paper. Blog about why you chose to use recycled supplies. Blog about how it helps you and makes a better product for your customers.

Customers don’t want to just buy something. They want to feel good about something while they do it. Make sure that your customers know that by buying your product and service they are helping to conquer something evil in the world (greed, waste, hunger, poverty) with their purchasing dollars. This might sound over the top, but the fact is, after all the logical reasons you present for buying your product, customers will still make a purchase based upon their gut reaction to what you’re offering. Offer them a chance to make life better for themselves and everyone else.

3. Personalization

This element of customer loyalty can seem a daunting task to tackle, but this is where apps and services are your friend. Getting pertinent information before and after a customer makes a purchase can let you send a personalized email on a birthday, make recommendations for products they might find valuable, or offer a solution to a problem they have. Taking time to think of creative ways to personalize your service can go a long way toward helping you keep the customers you’ve worked so hard to get.

4. Don’t Rush

In a world where faster is often confused with better, taking the time to serve your customers thoroughly can go a long way to helping you keep customers. People don’t want to feel like they are a check mark on your to-do list. They want to know that they are important, worth your time, and valuable enough to have their question answered thoroughly.

One way to accomplish this feeling of not being rushed, has nothing to do with time. Customers feel pushed along when a business owner or team member is rude to or short-tempered with them. Training your team how to keep their cool, show respect, and to act with kindness, even in difficult circumstances, can help you retain customers. This is particularly important when you are offering customer service. Take your time.

5. Ease of Use

Customers today are accustomed to quick service. There’s drive-thru restaurants, streaming videos, play on demand music and movies, and information available to them in less time than it takes to say “Bob’s your uncle.” Customers are accustomed to getting what they want as quickly as they can. They want to be able to find the product they are looking for, find how much it costs, and get it on its way to their own home with as little difficulty as possible.

You can accomplish this by investing in high quality programs and services that speed up the searching and purchasing capacity of your online or brick and mortar business. This is an area you don’t want to be cheap about. If you have too many steps for your customer to go through from searching, finding, and purchasing you are creating opportunities for them to change their mind about buying what you’re selling. Streamline your purchasing service and you’ll keep more customers.