Did you know that emotionally engaged customers are 10x more likely to stick with your company in the long term? When people feel connected to your small business — and see it as a community rather than a company — you create lasting bonds that transcend sales, seasons, and even economic downturns.
To build these strong relationships with customers, you need to treat them as part of the family. Here are 25 ways to cultivate customer engagement, building a community from the ground up:
1. Create Contests and Giveaways
2. Celebrate Milestones
One way to capture the hearts of customers is to recognize their personal milestones. Just as you would with a friend, send a little something in the mail or through email on a customer’s birthday.
3. Respond to Complaints
Even if a complaint seems unreasonable or dramatic, it’s still important that you listen and respond accordingly. Research shows that 90% of customers will continue working with you if you fix a situation the first time. So, make it count!
4. Give Discounts
One of the challenges of running a small business is that you have to compete with larger companies. Discounts can level the playing field.
Ten Thousand Villages created a pot of gold discount for St. Patrick’s Day. They place gold coins with 25% or 15% or 10% off in a big pot. Customers take their pick and apply the discount to their purchase.
5. Go Social
Social media builds communities, both for online and brick-and-mortar businesses. Capitalize on these channels by consistently updating social media platforms and using every opportunity to interact with customers. Tatte’s, a bakery in the Boston area, has strengthened customer engagement with a beautiful Instagram account that captures their sweet offerings.
6. Offer Referrals
As a small business, you benefit from clients or customers also who could use each other’s services. Connect the dots and make introductions on a regular basis. By helping other people to thrive, you make yourself indispensable as a business owner.
7. Develop a Customer Loyalty Program
Does your business have a punch card? Buy 10 coffees, get the next one free. These loyalty programs are most effective when they include a feedback loop. If your business uses a punch card, have employees to check-in with customers when they mark the cards. “Are you happy with our coffee so far?” goes a long way.
8. Hire Customers
When you need to hire a new employee, turn to your community. Loyal customers make great workers — they already know your brand and appreciate your high standards.
9. Handwritten Thank You’s
In the age of Twitter and email, a handwritten thank-you note goes a long way. Forbes highlighted a small business called HEX that built their entire customer base on handwritten thank-you notes. This kind of personal acknowledgment forges an immediate connection.
10. Provide Extra Convenience
A lot of businesses benefit from going mobile. Think about offering a delivery service for your product or paying for free shipping. Extra convenience increases engagement and sets you apart from the competition.
11. Host an Event
Customers love a good party! For the anniversary of your business start date, host a get-together for loyal customers. Celebrating these anniversaries positions your brand as a successful enterprise who shares its successes with clients.
12. Be Transparent
Time and time again, research suggests that transparency is one of the keys to customer engagement. For example, when chefs work in an open kitchen, customers report 17% higher levels of customer satisfaction. If you can’t open up your kitchen or factory, talk about your company’s values, mission, and processes.
13. Sponsor a Local Non-Profit
People like to support companies that do good in the world. Consider sponsoring an event or a non-profit. By engaging with your community in a positive way, you encourage customers to do the same by partnering with your business.
14. Make it Kid Friendly
If you run a business for adults, make an effort to include the whole family. Ensure there is room for strollers and available high chairs. Ask loyal customers about their families, and set aside candy or treats for little ones. Some businesses even choose to plan a “kids day” to encourage parents to bring along the whole gang.
15. Personalize Transactional Emails
Transactional emails have the highest open rates compared to other forms of automated communication. Take advantage of this opportunity to engage with customers by making these emails extra personal.
Instead of just sending a receipt, include a thoughtful sentence or two. “Do you like our product? We would love to hear from you either way.” Make sure the sign off is from an individual rather than the name of the business.
16. Create Traditions
Ben and Jerry’s free cone day created a new generation of fans. Mirror their idea by starting an engaging tradition of your own. Get creative, offering an experience that solidifies your business as a must-have institution.
17. Share Content
Build a blog for your website. Start a YouTube channel. With help from staff and workers, you can build on your expertise and share insights that delight your customers. The more you tailor your content to the audience, the more they will trust you.
18. Give Spontaneous Freebies
A free service or some company swag shows that you’re a generous business. Rather than focus on what you give customers, make it about timing. Surprise loyal clients with an unexpected freebie.
19. Show Off Customers
Create a bulletin board in your brick-and-mortar business where customers can advertise their services. Or in the case of digital or remote companies, feature your favorite community members on their website. These kinds of “mentions” encourage loyalty, making you a hub for frequent engagement.
20. Remember the Details
There’s nothing nicer than when a local barista remembers your favorite order. Remember the details of a customer’s likes and dislikes, habits and preferences. Anticipating these needs increases long-term engagement.
21. Develop Unique Packaging
Believe it or not, 4 out of 10 customers would take a photo of your product if it had unique packaging. For inspiration, check out the small businesses Crown Maple Syrup and Formulary 55 — their packaging impresses even the most discerning customers.
22. Celebrate Your Employees
Ask your regulars to nominate their favorite employees for yearly awards. Recognition not only boosts employee engagement, but it also reminds customers that they are an important part of the company’s success.
23. Plan for the Seasons
Seasonal products, services, and promotions are more likely to resonate with your customers than the same old offerings. When you build your customer engagement plan, make sure to revolve around major holidays (especially opportunities to celebrate.)
24. Develop an App
Sweetgreens, a thriving salad bar business, created an app so clients can place orders in advance. This solution allows loyal customers to skip the frequent lines at rush hour. An app solidifies a customer relationship and can even improve their experiences
25. Record Feedback
Customer feedback — both good and bad — is an incredible asset to your team. When someone receives a compliment or a criticism, it needs to be recorded. Over time, you can implement changes that address feedback and strengthen customer engagement.
These simple ideas can transform your business and impact relationships with customers. By making personal connections, supporting long-term engagement, and fostering loyalty, you strengthen the long-term viability of your small business. Do you have any innovative ideas to add to this list?