Customer Loyalty: What It Is and How to Build It

Every company’s greatest assets are its customers, because without customers there is no company.

—Michael LeBoeuf

One of the most important lessons to learn about business is this: never underestimate the value of customer loyalty. Anyone who’s ever taken an Introduction to Business class has no doubt heard that before. Salespeople and marketers see the truth of it in their on-the-job experiences. Anyone who doesn’t learn this lesson well is unlikely to succeed (or even last long) in the business world.

But what, exactly, is customer loyalty? One expert on the topic, Bob Hayes, has spent time examining multiple definitions culled from the Internet. Pointing out that many of them emphasize either the customer’s attitude or the customer’s behavior, he has come up with his own definition, which includes both elements:

Customer loyalty is the degree to which customers experience positive feelings for and exhibit positive behaviors toward a company/brand.

I think this broader approach is spot-on. When it comes to your relationship with your customers, attitude and behavior go hand in hand. After all, it doesn’t help either of you much if your clients like you but decide to take their business elsewhere.

Ultimately, your goal is to stay top of mind. You want your customers to think so highly of you (attitude) that when they need the kind of service or product you provide, they call you first without considering anyone else (behavior).

So how do you get customer loyalty? It doesn’t just show up out of nowhere—you have to work hard to build it. There’s no one-size-fits-all way to do this, but following these tips should give you a solid foundation:

  • First and foremost, provide a top-notch service. Even if you have the lowest prices around or send your clients extravagant fruit baskets during the holidays, if your customers feel that your work is mediocre (or worse), they won’t remain your customers for long.

  • In spite of your best efforts, sometimes things happen that make your customer unhappy. Maybe it’s a mistake you make. Maybe it’s a mistake your customer makes. Or maybe it’s no one’s fault at all. Regardless of where the blame lies, if you can do anything to fix a customer’s problem, do it. Take care of the situation immediately and to the customer’s satisfaction (or beyond), and learn from the experience.

  • Stay in touch with your customers. Any relationship withers from inattention—and business relationships are no exception. Remind your clients that your goal is to help them reach their goals. When you reach out to them, make sure to convey a clear message and use a medium that helps you stand out from your competition.

When someone decides to use your services, that’s a sign that he or she thinks you have something good to offer. By fulfilling (and exceeding) your customers’ expectations, you prove to them right and demonstration that you value your relationship with them—both critical building blocks for customer loyalty. It’s always less expensive to retain a customer than it is to search for a new one. So never let up in your efforts to keep the customers you already have!