There are few things more valuable (or more rare) than customer loyalty. Customer loyalty cannot be bought. It must be earned... not just once, but every day of the customer relationship.

The following rules contain the essence of dozens of conversations about customer loyalty that I've had over the years, with some of the smartest sales and marketing folk in the world.

1. Offer something uniquely valuable.

Uniqueness is the price of entry into the world of customer loyalty. Unless you have something that nobody else can offer, you're selling a commodity and customers are never loyal to plug-and-play vendors who supply commodities.

Furthermore, unless the customer perceives that something to be of value, it can't possibly earn the customers loyalty. However--and this is important--the uniqueness need not be a product feature. In fact, that kind of uniqueness is often temporary.

There are two uniquely valuable things that are far more permanent: 1) your positive reputation as a businessperson who can be trusted and 2) your firm's reputation as a reliable and hassle-free business partner.

2. Understand the customer's business.

It's a complete myth that most customers are well-informed about the kind of products and services that you offer. While it's true that the Internet contains a wealth of information, real decision-makers don't have time to wade through it all.

Quite the contrary. Customers expect YOU to know all about their business without having to take the time and effort to brief you on it. They want and expect you to make things simpler and easier for them, not the other way around.

Ideally, you want your customer to think about you as somebody who's part of the customer's industry--not your industry. When you're seen as "one of us," you're seen as somebody worthy of loyalty.

3. Add value with every contact.

Even if you're selling something unique and you're a huge expert in the customer's industry, if you can't add value every time the customer deals with you and your firm, you'll never earn loyalty.

It means bringing something new and interesting to the table every time you talk. It means dealing with customer problems before the customer realizes there's a problem. It means respecting (and never wasting) every single second of the customer's time.

When earning customer loyalty, there are no second chances. Never assume a customer will cut you slack because you've got a long history together. To earn loyalty, you must constantly prove to the customer that the relationship is crucial.

4. Go above and beyond.

Here's a hard truth: customer satisfaction is a joke. Show me a customer who's merely "satisfied" and I'll show you a customer who's ready to find another vendor. "Exceed your customer's expectations" may be a bromide, but it's the true price of true loyalty.

Exceeding expectations does not mean offering huge discounts and free products, though.  Quite the contrary. Discounts and freebies cheapen a relationship rather than strengthen it.

What's the secret? Simple. Find your customer new customers. No customer expects that from you and every customer is both grateful and delighted. More importantly, only an utter fool wouldn't be loyal to somebody who brings them new business.

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