The growth engine for most businesses is a combination of repeat customers and referrals.  Unfortunately, satisfied customers generally do not make referrals and are easily switched to a new supplier by lower price, better (more convenient) location, coupons, or even a perceived improvement in the way they are treated.

On the other hand, loyal customers are generally not tempted to change by minor improvements in any of the above.  They are not only engaged with your business, they are also usually forgiving when your business screws up, as long as it was not intentional.  But, that is not the “end game” that you should be trying to attain.

Beyond loyalty, the highest level of stickiness and unpaid salesmanship is when your customer becomes your advocate.  I love my MacBook computer, love getting help at the Genius Bar at the Apple Store and have helped sell a few MacBook’s, iPod’s and lately an iPAD without Apple ever knowing about me. Why do I do it? Because I think their products are so good but, more importantly, I know that my friends and family will always receive the same kind of consistently high quality treatment I enjoy and I want them to have the same experiences I have.

And now I’ve told each of you, again without Apple knowing how I like to help them grow. Can you think of an experience or product that you feel that strongly about and why?

There are a few other businesses I use that I act the same way with.  But for most of my needs, I am easily swayed depending on what’s happening at the instant I decide to buy something. For example, my Medical plan no longer includes Walgreen as an approved vendor so, after 20 years, we switched to CVS with absolutely no remorse.  I had been satisfied but…. well you get it. I really liked the service I received from the shop where I purchased my car, and I always gave them all 5s on their surveys.  But when I realized that I could get the same service, at lower cost, from a garage within walking distance of my home I changed immediately.

How do you know how your customers feel about your business? Have you ever asked them what is really important to them? At the end of your transaction just ask a question like “Is there anything else I can do to improve you experience?” or even “On a 1 to 5 scale where 1 is low and 5 high, how likely are you to recommend us to your friends or buy from us again?” If you know their email addresses you can send a brief survey invitation using SurvreyMonkey or Zoomerang.

Whatever method you use, thank the participants, keep track of the results, take individual and collective action, and provide feedback to all your customers.

And never let up – expectations always increase.