It’s a competitive marketplace, and keeping and building a loyal customer base is vital to maintaining and growing your business.

Customer appreciation programs are often used to cement and expand these relationships and create life-time patrons. If designed properly, these programs result in positive customer reviews spread through word of mouth and social media sites.

According to a recent study by BrightLocal, a company that provides SEO tools for businesses:                                                                                          

- 70% of local customers use the Internet to find a local business;

- 67% have read online reviews of local businesses;

 - 69% trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations;

 - 49% are more likely to use a local business based on these reviews.

 

We all know that the first step to great reviews is providing quality service and products.  But programs that reward loyal customers with tangible signs of your appreciation are also essential. This is not about giving away mass-produced gifts that bear your company’s logo, but rather something that singles out and makes customers feel special. Having a sense of being valued will prompt customers to spread the word about your brand.

 

Here’s an example of a loyalty gesture that made patrons feel over-the-top special:  A group of male colleagues were regulars at a restaurant near their office in midtown New York City. After years of patronage, the maitre d' stopped them as they entered one day and expressed how much the owners and the staff appreciated their many years of loyalty. They were each handed a plaque with their names already engraved, and were able to select where on the restaurant’s wall of fame their plaques would hang. The thrill was in seeing their names next to others that were far more famous and recognizable.  The men were so enchanted by the gesture that they spread the story to everyone they knew, and the story made its way online. The plaques probably didn’t cost that much, but the return on this investment for the restaurant is priceless.

 

This style of appreciation won’t work for every business, but there are actions you can easily take to help turn loyal clients into brand ambassadors. It does not have to be a costly move, just one that will resonate with your particular audience. Remember this is not about you, it’s about them.

Some ideas you might consider include:

1. Creating categories (gold, platinum, silver, copper) tied to specific benefits for customers based on amounts spent, volume, new business references and years of loyalty. The benefits should be rewards and not appear to be merely inducements to spend more money.

2. Provide long-time customers with a surprise, one-time special service or product for free or at a reduced rate. The surprise element makes this special.

3. Create an honor roll on your site or on Twitter thanking and recognizing clients and customers that have helped you get to where you are today. Adding their title or company or something personal about each customer would make it even more about them.

4. Create your own wall of fame with photographs of your most loyal customers.

5. Send a personal, hand-written note that details the positive impact their continued loyalty has had on your business. Make it personal and specific to your experience with them.

6. Pick up the phone and just say thank you and ask how else you can satisfy their needs. Making a patron feel like their ideas are important can go a long way.

Any of these actions enhances your company’s brand by creating deeper and more positive connections with your customers. Better connections, better reviews, greater exposure. It’s that simple. So keep them in the spotlight and make them feel special.

Mary Rosenbaum is a Master Certified Personal Branding Strategist and Career Coach with over 25 years experience as an entrepreneur and career professional and 10 years in business and finance. Mary is a dynmic and passionate coach whose talent is empowering entrepreneurs and careerists to perform at their peak by gaining clarity and more effectively communicating and leveraging their value proposition. For more insight into her work visit her website here