The old proverb, "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush," is especially true for customers. But in a hyper-competitive global economy, keeping that "in-hand" client is often easier said than done. Glowing testimonials might win new business, but often don't do much to foster loyalty among current customers.

On the other hand, the following techniques can help you demonstrate an ongoing commitment to your existing client base in ways that lock in loyalty and generate long-term sales:

1. Make Them Hero for a Day

Some companies spend millions advertising how responsive they are to their customers. However, there are other ways you can make the case just as effectively ... and essentially for free.

When a major bug is discovered or successful new feature rolled-out, make the customer who first reported or suggested it a hero-for-a-day by giving credit in your website or company publication.

For example:

  • Product owners' manuals added to downloads page  -- As suggested by Don Marks of Topeka, Kansas.
  • Eliminated bug that would stop playback during backup -- Thanks for the first report by Nancy Hartman of Bakersfield, California.

This simple strategy comes at almost no cost, highlights your responsiveness to the concerns of current customers and sends a positive message to future customers that you will value and recognize their input. When you acknowledge customer contributions to your product or service in this way, you are also making several powerful, inclusive statements:

  • We are in this together.
  • We are listening.
  • We are working to give you what you want.

2. Create the 'Memorial Sandwich'

A couple of years ago, I sat down at  a deli counter in San Francisco and ordered a "Herb Caen." Sure, it was a delicious pile of meats and cheese and other stuff, but I'd really picked that sandwich because it was named after one of that city's most revered newspaper columnists. As the proprietor slid the plate onto the counter in front of me, he let me know the creation had been Mr. Caen's favorite, that the famed journalist had eaten there almost every day, and that they'd even hosted his retirement party.

There are easily 100 delis in that City by the Bay. Since then, I've only eaten in at that one.

Why was the deli's sandwich-naming scheme so effective? While this technique may just seem like "Hero For A Day" on steroids, the message is subtly different, and significantly more important. A "memorial sandwich" tells customers--present and future--that you have, value, and recognize long-term customer relationships. If they happen to be famous, like Mr. Caen, so much the better.

While it might not be practical for you to name a product or service after a valued client, alternatives could include recognizing the relationship by similarly branding a room or corporate event. You don't even have to wait until they're dead; sincerely honoring a current customer is a great way to show your gratitude for their business.

3. Care About Community

You probably hear a lot about "long-term partnerships"... "mutually beneficial relationships"... "working together"... blah, blah, blah. For many businesses, those are just slogans–representing little more than two signatures at the bottom of a contract.

The fact is that businesses don't really have relationships; people do. If you want people to be loyal, you have to take an interest in who they are and what they care about.

To show that you really value a customer, pay attention to what happens in their hometown. The next time there's a natural disaster, make a contribution in your client's name. If the local high school is struggling to pay for uniforms, send them a check. When a firefighter or police officer is lost in the line of duty, make a contribution to the family.

Later on, when the competition comes calling with a cheaper deal, your customers will be less far likely to consider a change–because you and your company have demonstrated that your partnership is bi-directional. Your obvious concern and loyalty beyond the contract will be difficult for any competitor to overcome.

Where's the Proof?

How do we know these techniques work? Because, at one time or another, we've all been on the losing side of the equation:

"I've been doing business with [rival firm] for 20 years," says the prospective customer. "They've been good to us, so I'm not going to change. Thanks for your time."

And after all: Isn't that what you hope your customers will say?