Building emotionally satisfied, loyal customers is the holy grail of any small-business owner. But as businesses grow and diversify their offerings, it's easy for a brand to lose sight of what it originally promised to customers.
Replacements, Ltd. — a Greensboro, N.C.–based old and new dinnerware supplier that grew out of founder and CEO Bob Page's attic — knows how to keep customers coming back. Over the last 30 years, their customer numbers grew from a handful of cards in a recipe box to a database of more than 10 million loyal customers.
Check out these five tips from Replacements for cultivating loyal customers:
1. Know what makes your customers tick. Before you can build loyalty, you need to know what attracts customers to your company in the first place. Replacements senior vice president of e-commerce Jack Whitley says their company has found a niche within a niche, so they know their customers well.
They connect buyers to the world's largest selection of old and new dinnerware. Each year, the company gets thousands of letters from emotional customers. For instance, one husband said his wife was stunned when she opened her Christmas present to find replacement plates for those she'd lost in Hurricane Katrina.
2. Make it easy for your customers. No matter how complicated your operation, ordering should always be easy for customers. Even when choosing from approximately 13 million pieces of inventory in 360,000 different patterns, customers often report that Replacements.com is simple to search. And if they can't find the pattern they're looking for, they can call the researchers on staff with the expertise to find it.
3. Keep customers in the loop. Show your customers exactly what they can expect when they do business with you. When Bob Page originally started his company, he kept customer orders in a recipe box on three-by-five index cards that he eventually transcribed into a computer database.
Page worked one-on-one with his customers so they always knew where he was in the process of finding their dinnerware. As the company grew, he used technology to help customers feel cared for.
Now orders and shipping information are all seamlessly automated. The moment Replacements fills an order, customers receive FedEx status-tracking information via email so they know their precious package is on its way.
4. Make the delivery experience your top priority. Nothing can lose a customer faster than making shipping errors and sending damaged goods. Investing in the best shipping methods can make or break customer loyalty.
Since Replacements often ships fragile china or crystal to replace cherished family heirlooms, it's critical to customers that packages arrive safely. "It's really important to get a piece to a customer without breaking it, because we might not find another one," says Whitley. To gain that assurance, they consulted with FedEx for innovative and extra-safe packing methods, which contribute to Replacements' shipping error rate of less than one-tenth of a percent.
5. Collaborate with your vendors to gain an edge. Your vendors have likely worked with many other businesses to solve the same challenges your business takes on. Tapping into their knowledge is a smart move. "FedEx is not just a truck at the door," says Kelly Smith, Replacements CFO. "They provide us with more solutions than just shipping. We take advantage of the deep and broad experience FedEx brings to the table."
Replacements, Ltd. achieved their remarkable customer growth and loyalty because they invested in the technology and services they needed to keep their promises to customers. And 10 million is a good number of customers for a company started in an attic.
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