Oh, the feeling of the first sale.

You remember it. It wasn’t that long ago.

Your product/service/widget/banana stand is something you’ve built painstakingly. You believe in it, and you marketed it with the belief that other people will believe in it too.

And guess what. They do.

So congratulations! You have officially leveled up as a company because you have real, honest-to-goodness customers, and they like you, they really, really like you! But being the good business owner you are, you want to make sure your customers keep liking you over and over again.

So how do you make first-time customers come back? Will they really want your product enough to buy it once and then come back? How do you make sure you keep them happy and wanting more?

In this post, we’ll explore some of the roadblocks that small businesses run into when figuring out how to get those return customers. Here’s what you can expect to learn:


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What exactly is a return customer?

A return customer is someone who has bought your product or service once and is returning to buy it for the second time. Ultimately, the goal for a sustainable business is to turn these first-time customers into repeat customers, but first, let’s focus on getting the first-time customer to come back a second time.

Pro-tip:

Don’t confuse a “return customer” with a “loyal customer.” They aren’t there just yet. But you do have to have return customers before you can have repeat or loyal customers. It’s all about getting those first-time purchase folks to turn into second-time purchase people—then you can start thinking about the third, fourth, and fifth purchases.

Why are returning customers so important?

You can’t have loyal customers until you have return customers. Finding a way to make that first-time purchase turn into a second purchase takes finesse. You have to find a way to return to the top of your first-time buyer’s mind—and stay there.

Creating a positive interaction loop in the customer experience is what makes these first-timers turn into loyal customers. And if a visitor’s experience with your company is positive from the word “go,” then your customer retention and the likelihood of them returning or referring more business to you will skyrocket.

Let’s break down some of the skills and tools you can use to make the customer experience great so that return customers come knocking on your door faster than you expect:

1. Meet them on their channel of choice

Customers want their experience with your business to be easy, breezy… It shouldn’t feel like work. They’ve gotten used to watching shows on demand on Netflix and instantaneously messaging friends on WhatsApp (both of which are great, sure)—but that means that customer expectations are growing too. How fast can you pick up their call? How intuitive is your product?

So, how can you make your customers’ experience with you a bit more like Netflix? Meet them where they are.

Customers need to know that you’re readily available to help them in order to believe that their needs are being met, so be present across different channels like phone, email, and social media. This is called omnichannel customer service—and it’s your best way to say “How can I help?” without physically being in the room with your customers.

Chatbots, email, phone, and customer surveys are all ways to show the customer that you can take care of their questions from the moment they first hear about you, to after they’ve placed their first—or fifth order. One way to keep the lines of communication open and ready is to have a contact center tool like RingCentral. Not only does it consolidate all your communication channels so that you can respond to a Tweet, a Facebook message, and more—all in the same window—it also creates profiles of your customers so that you can see all their past interactions with your business on your screen when they call (more on this later):

2. Personalize your customer interactions

Feeling personally known and understood is something that every customer (ahem, every human) needs. Personalizing your customer interactions is quickly becoming a customer service best practice, and it’s about more than just having an email list that you can autofill the customer’s name in.

Of course, automated customer service can be extremely useful—but there’s a time and place for it. Some interactions just don’t work if they’re automated. (For example, if a customer has an unusually complicated question that you can’t just solve with a cut-and-paste response.)

Think about finding ways to be more human and relate to your customer so that you understand who they are, where they’re coming from, and how you can support them—no matter where in the buying journey they are.

For example, as customers, we all know that there’s nothing worse than having to repeat the same information to different customer service agents in order to get to the person who can solve our original problem. That’s exactly why these teams should have customer history easily accessible to them so that if a new agent handles a return customer’s needs, they have a frame of reference on what this customer might be calling about. That allows your business to be personal, even if you have to transfer a customer between multiple agents.

Pro-tip:

A good contact center tool should have, at the very least, omnichannel capabilities, integrations with CRM tools, and customer service analytics to help you build those customer relationships and pave the way for return customers to come back.

3. Consistency is key

It’s a glorious thing when you can start a conversation on one platform and continue the same conversation on another platform without any information being lost. (And this goes for both B2C and B2B customer service.)

What’s even better is when a customer can be confident that they’ll be getting prompt, friendly, and fast responses to their questions—whether they’re calling you on the phone, emailing you, or messaging you on social media.

If you want customers to enthusiastically return to you, time and again, consistency is key. If they’re wondering whether you’re going to leave them on hold for an hour, or if they’re going to have a terrible experience contacting you on social media like the last time, or—you get the idea—that’s not a great experience. And more often than not, that could hurt your chances of getting customers to return.

4. Consider your customers’ demographics

Take some time to think about the variety of generations interacting on different channels. Millennials and GenZ are digital natives who are comfortable with online communication techniques.

Meanwhile, baby boomers are often most comfortable sticking to Facebook and phone calls:

Graph: Preferred communication after purchase

Tailor your messaging for each channel and the audience that tends to use that channel instead of, for instance, forcing all your customers onto online customer service.

5. Lead with empathy

It’s not enough to know your product and be able to explain it to anyone. You also have to know your customer, their specific situation, and how your product could help solve their unique problems.

One way to lead with empathy is to show your return customers that you still care about their experience, even though you’ve already won their business. If they sign up on your email list, send them content that’s useful—and if you’re fancy, you can customize your messaging even more based on what they bought from you.

Send them a satisfaction survey that asks questions specific to their first experience. And if they say that something wasn’t great about that experience, try to rectify it! Make sure they know that you’re grateful for them and want to build that relationship so that they return.

6. Sweeten the deal and show them you care

There are tons of discounts for being a first-time customer, but rare are the deals and love that the return customer sees or feels.

A return customer discount is an easy way to show them that you aren’t just about hooking them the first time but are excited to see them back again. Here are a few ideas for how to thank a customer for their business.

Anticipate your roadblocks (aka watch out for silos)

Having the skills to land a return customer is one thing, but there are still ways your company can fall into traps that might lead to customer and agent frustration.

Every company is subject to falling into the rut of “this is how we do things,” which can lead to poor communication and frustration for your customer. Granted, a small business may not have a giant team dedicated to just marketing or just sales, but even small businesses can fall into the trap of siloing their processes, which can lead to internal inefficiencies—and alienate their customer base.

Here are some roadblocks to look out for when you’re trying to gain return customers:

Agent silos

Often, customer support reps operate separately from the rest of the company. But this physical separation can lead to other gaps where, for example, reps can’t ask for help from other teammates without putting a customer on hold. No one likes to be put on hold, but it’s necessary at times, so make sure that your team is able to get answers for customers as quickly as possible.

Not every company has this issue, but the more your company grows, the more spread out you’re likely to become, even if it means simply working in a separate part of the same office.

Pro-tip:

Consider using specialized customer service apps so that you can handle customer requests as a cross-functionally collaborative team.

Tool silos

When your customer service software is siloed, reps have to toggle between them more often to solve issues, which makes them slower and less efficient. This reduces the support they can provide and increases customer wait times. See where you can consolidate the number of apps you’re using.

For example, if you’re using video conferencing software, and a separate messaging app, and something else for phone calls, you could be doing all of that in just one app:

Pro-tip:

If there are tools that can be shared between multiple teams, consider having a cross-department training day so that these teams can get together to learn how to use these tools together.

Customer data silos

Lots of technology and tools designed for businesses are, by design, siloed. They prioritize a specific function or channel, but even though they may have the ability to share information, you have to do that manually.

A customer who calls you with a question shouldn’t have to face significant hurdles, even if they do require further follow-up through email, a phone call, or other channels. Just because they asked their question through a web form doesn’t mean that they should be tied to that channel in order to get the smoothest service delivery.

A live chat that stores the history of each customer’s interaction will help agents find initial conversations held with return customers. Following up with a return customer to see how their product is working for them shows that you care about improving the customer experience and encourages the return customer to purchase again. Think of it like how you’d approach building a relationship with any other person, like a friend or colleague.

A lot of these customer service tips boil down to simply being considerate and thinking about what the other person would want—the difficult part is deciding how you’re going to execute on it..

So what gets customers to return?

There isn’t a silver bullet solution for this one, but here’s one thing we know: first-time customers who have a good experience are likely to return.

A first-time customer is tentative, learning the ropes of your product or service, checking out the competition, and figuring out what is going to meet their needs and their budget. Once they make the leap and become a first-time customer, it’s because they decided that what you have to offer fits their needs best.

Now that you’ve done the hard part (in theory), you just need to keep them around. Make it easy. Make it accessible. Communicate. Help them believe that you will find them a solution to their problems—and then follow through.

All of these things factor into a customer returning, but the overall experience of how you built that trust, solved their problem, and made it easy for them to purchase and reach out if they had problems or questions is what makes you memorable for all the right reasons.