While businesses often direct their attention on attracting new clients, strengthening their connection with existing customers is equally, or perhaps even more important.

Return customers are the lifeblood of any business, and thanks to social media, they have the power to be an online ambassador for your organization. A loyal customer is not only paying for your products and services but is telling others about you, too.

Taking repeat business for granted is a mistake. Customers will come and go, often disappearing without ever letting you know why they're not returning. Be sure to protect the investment you made in earning their business the first time by taking the best possible care of them once they are in the fold.

Here are 9 ways to grow your repeat customer base.

1. Stay in touch.

After the sale, devote resources to continuing to build the relationship instead of merely setting your sights on the next transaction. Opportunities can include being active on social media, sending clients a special incentive, and regular communication such as email newsletters. However, there is a fine line between keeping in touch and becoming a nuisance. Your communication should be meaningful and have a purpose.

2. Assume they won't remember you.

A customer may have hired you once, but that doesn't guarantee they will think of you the next time they need the services you offer. You are competing for their attention amidst a million other distractions every day (this is true with both retail and business-to-business companies). If you provide services to other companies and you haven't heard from them in a while, reach out and let your contact know you would appreciate their future business.

3. Keep the experience fresh and relevant.

Give your customers a reason to shop with you again. Continue to hone and improve your offerings - and remember to articulate to existing customers what's new. Changes and updates are more reasons to interact with your client base.

4. Surprise them.

When someone does something above and beyond our expectations, we leave feeling delighted and excited, and will likely tell others. This can be as simple as remembering a customer's name or as special as offering a gift on their birthday or another milestone. Reward them for their business by giving them loyalty discounts or extras when they use your services repeatedly.

5. Collaborate.

Do good things together in the community. Whether it's donating a portion of every sale to a non-profit or hosting a collection for the local food bank, choose an activity that lets customers help with a good deed, so they feel good about doing business with you.

6. Have the right people on the front-line.

You can have the best product in the world, but if the person your customer interacts with is not engaging or even worse, downright unpleasant to deal with, you will drive people away. Make sure you have qualified people on your team. Friendly, efficient and personalized service should be a standard.

7. Make it easy for customers to reach you.

Don't send them through a lengthy chain of menu options before they are able to get a person on the line. Make a point of responding to social media comments, emails and voicemail messages promptly.

8. Listen.

This requires two steps: paying attention when they share feedback and also proactively asking them what they think of your business. Send surveys to customers regarding their opinion about your product and the service they received, and then take the information to heart.

9. Show your appreciation.

Express your gratitude with something as simple as a heartfelt thank you when doing business in person (not just a "you're welcome" if they thank you first).Take it a step further by sending a thank you note or a special reward for a referral. Building strong relationships takes time, but the payoff is worth the energy.

Published on: Oct 17, 2016