Crisis Survival Kit: 12 Tips To Keep Customers Coming Back

As the recession drags on, people are keeping a tighter grip on their wallets. So how does a retailer stay in business? By developing a loyal following. Here are 12 tips to ensure your customers stick with you.
As the recession drags on, people are keeping a tighter grip on their wallets. So how does a retailer stay in business? By developing a loyal following. Here are 12 tips to ensure your customers stick with you.What is the secret behind successful stores during this economic crisis? "They are getting the most out of every customer who walks in, logs in, calls in, you name it," says Rick Segel, author of the "Retail Business Kit For Dummies," with a brand-new second edition. "Even though they might have fewer customers come through their doors, by maximizing the ones they do have, they're managing to beat this recession."

Segel shares 12 tips to maximize each of your customers:

  1. Sell the customer as much as possible. Then sell him or her some more. Simple math means the customer who buys multiple items makes your store more money than the customer who buys just one item. So if a customer is going to purchase, say a casserole dish, ask, "Did you see the serving dish that goes with the set?" "She might decline," says Segel, "or she might walk over and take a look at those items, even if it's just to be polite. Once over there, you never know, she might pick something else up."
  2. Become a relentless data collector. Ask what your customer does, watch what he or she buys, pay attention to the time when the customer shops, and collect the customer's information. Then keep that in your customer database. And remind customers that giving up their information will help you to better serve them. Then do just that.
  3. Create a customer wish list. Then, try to grant those wishes. Always offer to order an item that a customer wants but is not in stock. And tell him or her you'll notify them when it comes in. "This is a great way for you to stay in front of your customer and to give him a reason to come back to your store," says Segel.
  4. Keep in touch with your customers -- and know that "expected" communications may not be good enough. This is an excellent call for an e-mail newsletter. In a regularly sent newsletter, you can notify customers of sales, recent mentions of your store in the press, or any other notable news about your business. "The goal is to remind them that you are still around," Segel says. "If you can keep your store on their minds, they'll keep coming back."
  5. Do whatever it takes to keep the customer referrals coming. Create a customer referral program in which the original and new customers each receive a reward.
  6. Use coupons. They're a back-to-basics tool that always works. People love to think they've gotten a deal. Include coupons in your e-mail newsletter, and they can either print it out or simply pull it up on their smartphone in your store -- which is what a number of larger stores are starting to do. And always use dollar amounts rather than percentages. "Dollar amounts are more tangible for customers," says Segel. "They immediately know what their savings would be."
  7. "Bounce them back" into your store. Bounce-back coupons offers customers a percentage of their current purchase in a coupon that must be used at a later date -- but within a certain time frame, say, within seven days. "Not only does this provide you with a way to get a customer back in the store, it allows you to pressure him to come back sooner rather than later," says Segel. "Give him too long of a window, and he's more likely to forget about you."
  8. Get your customers to sing your praises -- and record their arias. Segel declares customer testimonials to be the most powerful form of marketing for retailers and suggests keeping a digital camera by the cash register so that when a customer gives your store a compliment, ask him or her if you can take their picture to display. And have the customer write down the testimonial to go with the photo. You can even create online video testimonials and post them to your Web site or distribute on a DVD with press kits.
  9. Turn your customers intro research sleuths. "Ask your customers where they've been shopping and what interesting merchandise or clever sales promotions they've seen," says Segel. "Ask the right customers in the right way, and you will get unbelievably valuable information. This also helps you make a special connection with your customer -- most people love being asked their opinion. It makes them feel important."
  10. Seek out anonymous feedback via customer service surveys. Include in your newsletter a link to a survey on your Web site so customers can print out, fill out, and turn in the survey at your store -- that way it's still anonymous. And keep surveys available at your shop. The truth can hurt, but it's better to know of any gripes your customers might have so you can fix them before you lose any business.
  11. Create a customer advisory board. "Ask a few of your loyal customers if they would be willing to meet with you about four time a year so that you can pick their brains about your store," says Segel. "At meetings, ask what they think about your merchandise, your employees, the way you do business, etc."
  12. Seek out and cultivate lagniappe moments. Lagniappe is New Orleans-speak for "a little extra." And that, Segel says, is the heart and soul of customer maximization. "You focus on what you can do to genuinely improve your customer's day rather than on what your customer can do for you," he says. "Whether that means you take the extra time to really explain a product to someone or give him a gift card as thanks for referring a customer, you'll be building a relationship that turns into customer loyalty."

And having customers that keep coming back is a darn good recession-survival strategy.

More From bMighty: Financial Crisis Survival Kit