Creating Loyalty without a Loyalty Program


I don’t think I have to spend a lot of sentences telling you why customer loyalty is important. You know that keeping people happy and coming back and telling friends about you is the best way to grow your business. Right? What you might not know is how to make your clients loyal outside of offering a great product or service.  

I will say first, offering a great product or service IS the absolutely essential first step to creating loyalty. Let’s not totally gloss over that. If you are not providing an experience that customers want, they will never be loyal no matter what you are doing on top of that thing.


So let’s say you are not a large grocery store, or a chain restaurant like Panera Bread and you don’t have a full IT department to manage the a complicated rewards system, nor do you have a full time marketing team to develop, test, and execute an over the top yet simple incentive program to go along with that rewards system. What do you do then?


You could look in to some sort of pre-programmed app or online system to manage a rewards points program for you, but you will still have to come up with and manage all the incentives to go with it. You will have to make sure you are offering fresh incentives all the time and communicating them in a way that customers care in order for that to be effective. As a marketing manager, I will say from experience, it is a ton of work.


So here’s what to do instead:


Make a big deal about your new customers.

This is a very easy thing to do and it works. When you get really really excited about having a new customer or client at your place and do something that makes them feel special, they will remember you and be that much more excited to come back. You could call this good customer service, which it is, but it is more than that. It is true one on one connection.


When I opened my boutique cycling studio, we put a system in place for how to welcome new clients, that included an honest to goodness excited greeting, a question to establish their fitness expertise level, a walk through of our place, an equipment set up, and an introduction to at least one person who is a regular. This might seem like a lot, but it honestly takes less than 5 minutes and can be easily taught to your staff. If you don’t have someone friendly enough to handle all of this greeting your clients, you might want to rethink who is greeting your clients. You want people to feel like they are wanted. The best way to do that is to act like it by going above and beyond their expectation with authenticity.


Another great example comes from my days managing upscale hair salons. We trained our staff to compliment every guest. This seems like it wouldn’t need training, but it did. Every client that came through the doors received compliments in and compliments out from everyone, not only their service provider. We even had contests for the person that gave the best compliment of the day. The trick here is, they have to be real. People know when they are being fake-complimented. That is no good and completely defeats your whole purpose.


An honest to goodness thank you

I am not talking about an automated email that is sent to all of your new clients with a thank you message. (You should have that, yes.) What I am talking about is real loyalty that comes from real connection. Pick 5-10 new customers and write them a real and from the heart thank you note. If you have the time, make it even more. In my cycling studio, I wrote a thank you postcard to every new client. Yes, that meant I handwrote hundreds and hundreds of cards. I kept writing them until I hired a staff, and then they wrote them. Every single new client at my studio received a handwritten thank you from me personally, or someone on my team. Every. Single. One.


Give them a reason to revisit

The points system and encouragement of repeat visits is what is so attractive about those online loyalty programs and apps, but lets face it, they are really complicated and often fail to hold people’s interest for the long term. If you are a business that thrives on repeat visits, you can create a much simpler way to encourage multiple visits. There are a few ideas that I recommend to my clients including hosting special events, providing unique service offerings, or using an old school punch card, but my favorite idea of all is to host a Challenge.


A Challenge is a great way to encourage repeat visits and build a sense of community. I’ll use my fitness example one more time, we had a “30 for 30 Challenge” where our clients were encouraged to take 30 classes in 30 days. We made clients sign-up in advance on a piece of paper that stayed at the front desk and made a big deal every time someone signed up. We gave them a hashtag to use via social media, highlighted their names on every class registration sheet, and made it a point to introduce them to each other so they knew the other Challegers. We sent an email a week to encourage their participation, and offered an incentive of 30% off when they completed the Challenge within the designated time. Yes, this was a lot of prep work, but we kept everyone engaged for a short period of time, and ended up with loyalists for life. We also made a ton of money when they all redeemed their discounts for more classes and retail inspiring way more sales than we ever imagined.


Engage with them on social media

The no brainer recommendation in this post, is to engage with your customers via social media. I cannot stress enough how important it is to use your social media channels for engagement, not advertising. Sure you can post when you have fun stuff going on, or new products, or other announcements, but if that is all you post, you are doing it wrong. Repost pictures that your customers share of your product. Reply to them when they tag you or post on your pages. Interact as a human, not as a business, and always always sign your name as the human who is behind the keyboard if you really want to make an honest connection. Human connections lead to loyalty, it is as simple as that.


Building relationships with the people buying things from you will not only help you build your business, it will make you feel good, too. By really connecting with people they become loyalists for life whether or not they continue to need your product or services. That turns them in to advocates for your business, which is just as valuable.