Breaking up is hard to do. It isn't easy in personal relationships and it isn't easy in business either. The opportunity costs are often too high. 

And because so many companies work so hard to win new customers, it is a shame that so many companies don't put the right amount of effort in afterward to keep those customers. Loyal customers are the customers who can fuel significant growth in your business. Data shows they buy more, tell their friends and family about you, and cost a whole lot less to service and maintain.

I often say that loyal customers are like the holy grail for any company.

Even with all the benefits associated with keeping your customers coming back to you over the long-term, far too many companies take for granted that their customers who've bought from them more than a time or two will be hooked.

Loyalty isn't something that you earn once, and then you are set for life. It has to be earned over and over again with every single interaction you have with your customer.

Nobody wants to be broken up with. Focus on these two principles to get your customers to want to stick around with you for the long haul.

1. Strengthen loyalty through emotional connections.

When your relationships with your customers transcend beyond transactions, you draw them closer to you. That deepened bond positions you as an important part of your customers' world, that will make it difficult for them to imagine life without you. 

You can develop emotional connections no matter what kind of business you have. The key is to create an environment throughout your customers' journey that makes them feel like they belong with you. 

I developed a strong emotional connection with a digital company that provided a service for my website for a number of years. The bond was formed through interactions I had with the people who worked there. I would see articles they wrote, their names signed at the bottoms of emails, and their voices in podcast episodes. They became regular and trusted resources that I turned to in the early days when I had questions about the aspect of the business they helped with.  

I felt like I knew them, and they knew me. They were my people.

Your team can be your customers' people too. Put your team at the forefront of different touch points in your customer journey, and encourage them to engage with your customers the way they would a friend. In addition to one on one interactions, you can do this with emails, content you produce, and social media.

2. Give your customers new reasons to love you.

There's this line in the Sex and the City movie where the character Samantha Jones is explaining why she was still in a relationship that no longer works for her. In essence, she felt like she couldn't leave because her significant other had stayed with her throughout her battle with cancer years earlier.

Eventually, Jones decided that goodwill and good times in the past aren't eternal. And that's the case in business too. Our customers haven't made a commitment to stick with us for better or for worse. So even though the fond memories can keep a relationship together for a while, that alone isn't enough to sustain it.

Work to give your customers new reasons to love you, every time they interact with you. Don't take their attention or their loyalty for granted.

I'm in the process of breaking up with that digital company I mentioned I've worked with closely over the past few years. Others in my network parted ways in the last year. But I held on because the personal connection I felt with the company made me want to overlook troubling signals. And perhaps an even bigger factor was the resources associated with making a change. I was not looking forward to the time and money I would have to pony up to transition to another provider.

But eventually, I realized the emotional connection I had with the company was no longer deep enough, and hassle factor wasn't a strong enough reason to continue delaying transitioning to a partner that would better serve my business.

Keep the bond with your customers strong by continuing to innovate. Be relentless about searching for new ways to solve their problems. And along the way, seize every opportunity to strengthen the emotional bond that deepens your competitive advantage.

Reward your customers for choosing you. So much so that it is a no-brainer for them to choose you again. 

Then rather than going through another unnecessary breakup, you both can celebrate the benefits of a mutually beneficial and delightful relationship.

Published on: Jul 28, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.