We consumers are a fickle lot. The internet provides us with so many options for our business. We are constantly drawn to the lowest price, or the vendor that offers the most convenient path to acquisition/adoption (Amazon anyone?). We want the newest and the best. So why not switch brands for the latest gizmo or new feature. Where do our loyalties lie? Is customer loyalty dead?

No, it's not dead, but it is becoming harder and more elusive for all the reasons I just enumerated. As business owners we need to be constantly working towards achieving customer loyalty. Why? Because it drives us to be better, both qualitatively and quantitatively (our bottom-line; repeat customers are worth more than new customers).

What makes a customer for life?

Start with a great Product or Service. That's a given. If what the customer gets isn't of the highest quality they will certainly go elsewhere. To do this you need to listen to the customer. They are your target audience. Listen to what they say. Their feedback can come in many forms; Insight offered during the sales process, customer surveys, and customer support. The latter is a great avenue to gain insight into the pain-points of your client and where you can improve the product and their experience.

Give them as many avenues as possible to speak-up; Email, phone number, customer communities, social media. Give them the opportunity to make suggestions on new products or features. Xero does a great job of this on their site, where users can suggest improvements and others can vote. The highest voted features make it into their product plan. Don't just listen, reach-out, and engage. If you make them feel empowered, they will feel more connected to your brand.

Customer Service is the second major piece of the puzzle, and something that has been hammered to death in most blogs I've read. There is this constant emphasis on putting the customer first. And they are right of course, but there is so much more than a simple platitude.

What makes for great customer service? If you think customer service is just a department or job function, post sales, you need to rethink customer service.

Customer service is everything you do to support the customer, before, during, and after the sale. Are you providing stellar content on your company blog to make them informed buyers? Is your customer service prompt, and friendly? Are they empowered to go the extra mile to ensure positive customer experience? Even if you can't solve the client's problem, they should walk away happy knowing you tried and care. Find a win-win opportunity in every situation. Are you frequently following-up with clients to ensure that everything is going smoothly? Is there anything more they need? Are you providing them with additional info to help them get the most out of their purchase? Or offering promotional offers/perks for future purchases?

You don't have to be a large company to afford great customer service. It all starts with you. I'm a firm believer that every person in your business is part of the customer service department. Each person is a direct contributor to the customer's experience, from the person who answers the phone, to the person putting together your widget, to the designer of the packaging. You should work to instill this into your company culture.

And don't forget, how you treat your employees will ultimately impact customer experience. If employees are happy, love what they do, feel treated with respect, and are empowered, that will show in their interactions with your customers.

More than anything, be genuine. Be real. Customer's want a real experience. If they can relate to you it will make for a more personal relationship. Make them feel like they are getting more than just your product or service. Make them feel like they will always be taken care of as long as they work with you. If you do this they will want to come back, and stay for life.

We want to make you a customer for life

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