Years ago when I got my first apartment after business school, my boyfriend at the time advised me not to buy comfortable furniture.

His rationale was that if the furniture was "too comfortable", then guests would overstay their welcome and wouldn't want to leave.

I wanted anyone I invited into my home to feel welcome and relaxed while there, so I ignored his advice and bought super comfortable couches. My guests loved them, and so did I.

Whether they know it or not, far too many businesses follow the route of my ex-boyfriend. They create an environment within their companies that isn't conducive to getting their customers to want to come back. No bueno.

Loyal customers are like the gift that keeps on giving in your business. They buy more, tell others about you, and cost less to service and maintain. As such, smart companies create an environment that compels their customers to come back to them again and again.

To do that, you've got to cultivate a culture that is fanatical about customer loyalty. Here are four ways to bake earning the loyalty of your customers into your company's DNA.

1. Declare your intention

Make it known that customer loyalty is the prize you are fighting for. Define the end goal you want to achieve with every customer interaction.

When you make your objective known, it's easy for your team to get on board with your vision, so they can assist you in achieving it.

Online retailer Zappos makes the experience they want their customers to have with them clear:

Regardless of our structure, our goal is to position Zappos as the online service leader. If we can get customers to associate the Zappos brand with the absolute best service, then we can expand into other product categories beyond shoes.

What is your goal for every interaction your customers have with your business? What is the feeling you want them to associate with your brand?

2. Connect your team to your customers

Scientific research shows that people are more motivated in their work, when they feel connected in some way to the people who benefit from it.

One study showed fundraisers raised more money for scholarships, when they were able to interact with scholarship recipients. Another study showed that cooks are motivated to work harder when they see who will be eating their food. And another study showed lifeguards were more attentive after reading stories about people who'd been saved by lifeguards.

Everyone on your team needs to know how the work they do impacts your customers. Connect the dots for them however you can.

Where possible, provide direct interaction and or share stories of how they made customers' lives better.

3. Empower your team to do what's necessary

One of the biggest killers of motivation is when you have to go and ask permission for every. little. thing.

Not only does the time spent in getting necessary approvals diminish your opportunities to delight your customers, but it also costs you a ton of money too.

Ryan Holmes, CEO of Hootsuite wrote about how his company learned this the hard way:

This is the story of a $200 t-shirt ... and company systems gone terribly wrong. Earlier this year, an employee wanted to send a shirt with our logo to a customer as a gift. There was nothing special about this particular shirt. It was an ordinary, 100%-cotton crew neck. But by the time this employee got approval -- factoring in his own time and everyone else's up the org chart who had to weigh in to validate the request -- the cost of this t-shirt had ballooned to $200 ... if not more.

Trust your team members. Train them on how to delight your customers and to deliver the kind of service that's necessary and will compel them to want to come back.

And then give them the leeway, and the support to act as needed to do what's best for your customer in your quest to earn loyalty.

4. Track and celebrate progress

You encourage the behaviors you want to see in your company, by what you track and reward.

So if you want your team to handle customer conversations quickly, they will focus on the time they spend on the phone, rather than the experience of the customer.

But if you highlight and reward team members for solving a complex customer problem to his satisfaction, or transforming customer complaint into a customer testimonial, you will start to see more and more examples of these behaviors popping up.

You can consistently earn loyal customers. But you've got to plan for it, by building a culture that supports getting your customers to come back to you. Instead of running away from you.

Published on: Apr 21, 2017