Rhonda Abrams At USA TODAY:

In this economy, when small-business owners ask me what to do to survive, I always advise, “Whatever you do, make sure you do whatever you can to keep your current customers.”

Whether you call it customer retention, account management, relationship management, or just staying in touch, developing a strategy so that you don’t lose the customers or clients you have is vital to the success of any business – especially now.

1. Contact your top customers or clients regularly. Make a list of your top customers, at least 10-25. Call them each at least quarterly. Take the best ones to lunch or dinner – even if that means you have to hop a plane.

2. Keep your name in front of all your customers. Advertise regularly. Network regularly. Send e-mail newsletters regularly. The key is doing this regularly.

3. Give your current customers good deals. We’re all used to come-on deals to attract new customers, but we then fail to offer similar discounts to current customers. Remember, your competitors are targeting your customers with deals.

4. Surprise them! Do something special and unexpected for some of your best customers. Send them a small gift. Add something extra to their order.

5. Keep track. Get a database, contact manager, digital address book. I’m always surprised by the number of businesses – especially small businesses – that do not have a good database of their past customers. Find a way to keep track of all your clients – past and present – so that you can easily and quickly contact them.

6. Communicate, communicate, communicate. All of us, myself included, take our customers for granted. As a result, we get so focused on doing our work, that we don’t take enough time out to meet with, talk to, and more importantly, listen to, our customers. Stay in touch. Ask them what they need and want. Be part of their lives and businesses.

Photo by jana_koll.

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