These days, we are losing sight of what it means to believe that the customer is always right. Customer loyalty isn't a luxury anymore, it's a necessity for the growth and longevity of a business. After all, without customers, there is no business.

Over the years, I have learned from personal and professional experience what it takes to create a strong foundation of customer loyalty. It's about checking your perceptions, going the extra mile and engaging with customers to develop long-standing relationships.

Put the Customer First

First, business owners need to put the customer first by truly understanding them. One of the biggest mistakes business owners make is using a business model that is owner-focused, not customer-focused. You should have a clear idea of who your customers are, what they want, and how to reach them. Establish these things by conducting research and engaging with customers directly. I'm a big advocate for research and using feedback to make changes that can make a huge difference in building brand loyalty. At the end of the day, you are running a business and are focused on making a profit, but you'll only achieve this if you understand your customer and their expectations.

Perception Does Not Mean Reality

For business owners, it's easy to think that you are doing everything you can to reach your customers. You've created your Yelp page, posted on Facebook, and started marketing. Unfortunately, even then, your customers may not be getting the message.

They easiest way to find out? Ask! Reach out to your customers and ask how they heard about you and why they keep coming back. Listen to their feedback and allow them to become an external part of your business model. At The UPS Store, we opened our ears to what small business owners have to say through an online exclusive community we started called Small Biz Buzz. Through this forum we can identity the needs of our customers and adjust our business model based on their feedback. It's invaluable information straight from those who matter most.

Build Relationships

If the first step is understanding your customers, the next step is for them to get to know you. There are many ways to communicate with your customers and build relationships that are meaningful and impactful for your business. In fact, a recent study found that consumers are 80 percent more likely to stay in business with a company if they feel like they had a personal experience. 

Getting out into the community and networking face to face is a great way to connect your business to a person and not just to an advertisement or website. It may sound old school, but sometimes standing outside your business and greeting customers as they approach helps to establish a relationship before they even walk in the door. Don't assume that everyone knows what your business does or sells. Inform people what you do, not just online, but in person and by word of mouth.  

Think about it like this: People love going to farmers markets because they enjoy the experience; being able to interact directly with sellers, tasting the products, and hearing the story behind the products. So, why should your business be any different? By establishing a relationship, you are telling your customers you want to provide them with a holistic experience and not just a product, which will keep them coming back for more.

Communication is Key

Once you've established relationships with customers, be sure to keep the channels of communication open. Share news such as new products, sales, and promotions, as well as any big or small changes you're planning for your business. A minor modification to your business may not feel like something a customer may notice but it could be the thing that turns them away. Communicating with loyal customers can be a way to test the waters with new ideas and help protect your business, especially when you decide to make big changes that may affect them.

Give your customers more for their money and they will give you loyalty in return. When a customer feels known for more than just a credit card number or a lunch order, they will feel invested in your business and come back again and again.