Best-Kept Secrets: The 5 Things That Really Keep Customers Coming Back

Woman shopping at a small business

For global companies, local boutiques and every business in between, customer loyalty is an undeniable must have. Bringing clients back to your brand is a key predictor of future success; new customers can be both difficult and expensive to court, and the word of mouth that comes from existing buyers is often worth its weight in gold.

The trick, of course, is knowing how to encourage repeat business effectively. Here, we detail the five secrets to customer retention that every major brand knows. Use these tips to add value to your interactions, and you’ll be singing the loyalty song in no time.

1. Stellar customer service

The most successful brands know that incredible customer care can create some of the most satisfying moments throughout the entire business. This is where the Golden Rule really comes in handy: Treat each of your customers exactly as you’d like to be treated, and never allow your service to become anything less than outstanding. Disney’s Parks and Resorts division is among the best examples of this strategy in action; though the company has endured its fair share of low periods, its focus on creating memorable, magical experiences keeps customers coming back year after year. It’s all about the little things: friendly phone representatives, helpful associates and those special moments that demonstrate just how willing you are to go above and beyond for your customers.

Even otherwise egregious mistakes can be mended if your service standards are top notch. Like any massive company, Discover certainly receives a number of disgruntled customers, but its even-keeled representatives routinely go out of their way to right any wrongs. Similarly, Apple provides its helpful Genius Bar to anyone experiencing difficulties with a machine. That extra service often turns what could’ve been a bad product moment into a paragon of customer loyalty.

2. Creative loyalty programs

Customer retention is a priority for every business, and nothing keeps clients coming back quite like a thoughtful customer loyalty program. Based on a series of rewards, exclusive offers and unbeatable perks, these members-only clubs give clients more bang for their buck. What’s more, they often pamper customers with a set of VIP experiences, and that alone encourages people to return.

Of course, it’s not enough to offer sporadic discounts and flimsy membership cards. Some of the world’s biggest brands have created customer loyalty programs that rival credit cards in terms of must-have benefits. Amazon’s Prime offers free streaming videos and two-day shipping, Southwest’s Rapid Rewards makes it easier than ever to earn a free flight, and Nordstrom’s Fashion Rewards features free alteration and concierge services. Even companies like Office Depot have entered the ring with membership systems that reward frequent purchases and brand dedication. Create something that makes your customers feel special, and you’ll be rewarded with years of loyalty.

3. A consistent, engaging relationship

More than almost anything, humans crave comfort and consistency. This is more true than ever when it comes to brand relationships. As customers, we want to know that the products will always be good, the service will never be nasty and the brand will consistently speak to our specific needs. Big businesses spend hundreds of hours every year cultivating the sort of reliability that ultimately feeds the bottom line, and it all starts with customer engagement. If you’re not actively engaging with your clients by way of marketing communications, social media and overall voice, you’re missing a giant piece of the branding puzzle. Similarly, if you’re switching brand images as quickly as Madonna, you run the risk of confusing the people you rely on most. Interact with your customers consistently, and make them feel as if you’ll never let them down. It may not be a direct sales tactic, but sometimes it’s the covert strategies that make the biggest impact.

4. Those extra-mile moments

Who doesn’t love receiving a surprise gift? Making an extra effort for your clients is frequently the best way to encourage customer retention. One look at your email inbox during your birthday month backs up this theory; brands from Urban Outfitters to American Airlines send special birthday offers to customers in an effort to remind them that they care. Some companies even use personalized data to take it even further. 1-800-Flowers often sends reminders near a customized date, for instance, and local businesses routinely throw in additional perks based on a longtime customer’s preferences. It’s all about relating to people on a human-to-human rather than business-to-buyer level.

Loyalty programs feature this sort of system as a matter of course, but consider what you can do for your customers beyond the standard rewards. Get inspired by Chanel’s cosmetic counters, and throw a special sample or treat into a package for someone who’s spending a large amount. Take a cue from some Etsy sellers, and include a handwritten note of congratulations with the purchase of a baby item. You can even use information gathered from surveys to wish customers well during an anniversary, graduation or other milestone. When you show your clients that you’ve taken the time to know who they are, they’ll respond with loyalty like you’ve never seen.

5. Overwhelming authenticity

Even huge brands like Starbucks and Nationwide understand that authentic interactions are the keys to customer retention. You may be only one member on a team of 100, but every customer wants to feel as if they’re talking directly to a single personality. The best way to achieve this is to use brand voice, identity and image to break down the barrier between company and customer. Resist the urge to create a detached tone for your business; though it may seem like the best way to exude an air of luxury and expertise, it often makes your brand appear less than relatable. If you know who your customers are, what their lives look like and what they value most, you’ll be able to speak to them from a place of authenticity — which is exactly what most clients value more than anything.


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  • We’ve found it very difficult to have engaging relationships with our customers simply because they are far too busy to engage with this on our social media sites “chat” with us over the phone or via e-mail. There are a few exceptions, of course, but unless yours is the type of business where you work one-on-one with a customer. It’s really hard to have much of a relationship with them.

  • “Stellar customer service” is absolutely number 1. You can offer deals and coupons as often as the next company, but it doesn’t guarantee loyalty. It just encourages purchases from people that are bargain hunting. The overall experience, including interactions with employees, is what keeps people loyal.

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