Dr. Glenn Gearhart CEO of World Market Vendor Services, Inc. provides News and Commentary

Creating And Maintaining Loyal Online Customers

Six steps to creating and maintaining a loyal online customer  base

Do you want your business to be just a flash in the pan; or are you in business  to establish a sound and solid cash flow generating operation for the long term?  

Money and true wealth is made from the business that can build and maintain an ever expanding loyal customer base.  That is what buyers of businesses look for, and what they will pay dearly for.  How do you do that?  Is there a trick and what is it?

In the online world, the trick is to understand and follow a few fundamental rules.  These rules are not complicated or burdensome.  But they must be continually pursued with dedication and resolve.

I always say: “Speak with deeds and few words will be required.”  Here are the six key deeds or rules.  The order of presentation is not an order of priority, each is equally important.  However, all products and all businesses are not created and operated equal.  Therefore, some businesses may find it easier to accomplish some of the tasks and the resources commitments can vary per rule and task.  The compliance with these six rules or tasks bring about customer loyalty.  There are a number of definitions of customer loyalty.  My definition is simple: a customer you can count upon for the three R's: Repeat sales, Repeat referrals and Resounding testimonials. 

1] Customer Responsiveness – be timely in your response to customer questions, issues and concerns.  I do not mean that the customer is always right.  I mean timely respond to their contact with you and make it easy for them to contact you. 

One of the leading ways to destroy a loyal customer and a positive relationship is to not allow them to be heard.  Allow them to communicate with you and thereafter timely respond.  The customer may not be pleased with your response, but they are much less likely to bad month you and your products, if you listen and timely respond.

2] Customer Fairness – is a business philosophy that must encompass both product pricing and business attitude.  The most important factor is to provide the customer with value.  For a large portion of ecommerce shoppers pricing is a high factor in the decision to pick one vendor over another.  So for many customers the closer you can be to the lowest price for your produce the better.

Remember in the eCommerce community you are not competing with just the local store owner in town.  You are facing many, many competitive businesses operating from all over the world.  So be competitive, both in price and service.  Offer all kinds of sales, and special deals.  Use them to make your potential customers know you, and your value priced products.  Pricing and sales offers should focus on moving product- Move it!   Always remember; Move It!.  Some cash flow today, on many sales, is much better than a few sales over a long period of time.

3] Quick Packaging and Shipment – in the eCommerce industry there are two very important considerations: price and delivery time.  Since they were a small child, today’s consumer have been conditioned to want and need instant gratification.  That means the quicker you can deliver the purchased product the better.  Be honest with the customer about delivery times, but be quick as well.  Let them know if a delay has occurred and why.  Delivery status communications is important.

4] Reliable Products – sell and delver products you have tested, and are proud to offer.  Loyalty is based upon a good quality product at a fair price.  You also keep customer loyalty by the appropriate refunds and replacement of defective products.  However, refunds and replacements are not what you want to have occurring if you intend to make a profit and stay in business.  Do it right the first time.

5] Product-Customer Matching - match potential customers to the specific product that fits their need.  Use the product image and the descriptive text of the listing to convey accurate and complete information about the product.  Help the customer correctly select the product they want or need.  Help them make sure, before they purchase your product, that it is the correct part they need, the right size to fit their need, the color or shape they need.  Customers will respect you, and come back next time they need something you offer, if you tell them, sorry I cannot supply what you are seeking.  Remember, refunds and replacements are not what you want to have occurring if you intend to make a profit and stay in business.

I know of one instant where the image/picture shown was incorrect.  The buyer saw it and made a purchase based upon the image.  The delivered product was not what the picture showed.  The product was returned and a refund provided.  The vendor lost on the return and refund costs.  But more importantly, the buyer was very displeased at the misrepresentation and has stated, he will never buy another product from that vendor.

Bad or poor product descriptions and incorrect product images; both can cause a new customer to not become a loyal customer.  They can also destroy your existing relationship with an established loyal customer.  Review carefully your product pictures and descriptions before you post them. 

6] Continually Expanding – As your loyal customer base grows, they will provide you with referrals.  No matter which country these referred parties reside in, you should diligently attempt to serve them and cater to them.  These referrals are not only potentially new loyal customers for your business, your failure to address the needs of a referral can cause a negative impact on your existing loyal customer.

Referrals can be a low cost, highly effective approach to cross boarder market expansion.