When you’re hustling to finish combining before a rainstorm or checking a horse for thrush, customer loyalty probably isn’t on your mind. The day to day life of a farmer has a tendency to drown out other matters, and customer loyalty is kind of like gas in a truck – it only matters when you don’t have enough. However, when you’re going over your bills and checking your income, you can see the impact customer loyalty – or a lack thereof – can have on your farm.
But what is customer loyalty? To put it bluntly, customer loyalty is created when you give people a reason to buy from your farm rather than going somewhere else. Your customers have plenty of alternatives. They could pull up to Walmart and buy discount “beef” at a price you’ll never be able to match. Maybe they head into Safeway for their fruit and veggies just because it’s convenient. When customers are loyal to you, they’ll drive right past the strip malls and head to the farmers’ market on a busy Saturday to do their shopping.
Loyalty: A Farm’s Lifeblood
You’ll find only a handful of reasons that customers will stay loyal to a farm. First, they’ll stay loyal if they like you. Friends support friends. Second, they’ll stay loyal if they feel you provide a superior product. Sure, a family run farm won’t be able to price match a big box store, but you can provide a product they trust, one they can literally see growing from the earth. Finally, they’ll stay loyal if your farm can provide a better purchasing experience. People put off grocery shopping because they hate it. Fluorescent lights, mumbling cashiers, and shopping carts with broken wheels add up to a headache. Buying products from a farm or a farmers’ market is a completely different experience.
Customer loyalty is what keeps a struggling farm afloat through hard times. It can come from individual consumers or bulk purchasers. Let’s take a look at how to earn your customer’s loyalty.
1. Provide Great Customer Service
This’ll sound like common sense, but people want to be treated like people. Imagine that you’ve purchased a brand new dining room table. You spend three hours building it using a single Allen key, only to find the table is missing several components. In fact, it won’t even stand up properly! You call the store to return the defective table, and after spending another hour on the phone, they tell you they can’t replace it due to a sentence of fine print.
Are you going to buy your next table from them? Are you going to recommend your friends take a look? Probably not. If you want customers to be loyal to your farm, you have to go above and beyond to take care of them. Provide them with a way to get in touch with you and make sure you respond to their problems. While the customer isn’t always right, sometimes it’s better to smooth things over by making them feel like they are.
2. Resolve Problems Quickly
When you procrastinate on a farm, bad things happen. Leaks turn into floods, disease spreads through herds, pests destroy crops. Just as you have to respond quickly to problems on your farm, you have to respond quickly to customer problems. The best way to do this is to come up with a farming cheat sheet for you and your employees to follow.
Whenever you sell something, you’re bound to hear complaints. Your cheat sheet will tell you how to respond. Simply make a list of the complaints you hear the most frequently, then add a column that instructs you how to deal with each complaint. For example, if you have a customer complain about some corn they purchased, your cheat sheet would tell you to replace their corn and offer them a half dozen extra cobs on the house. As an added bonus, if you notice that one complaint is appearing frequently, you’ll know what you need to improve on your farm.
– photo courtesy of Bright Vibes
3. Under Promise, Over Deliver
Put yourself in the customer’s shoes. Imagine you’ve ordered a quarter of beef, cut into a variety of steaks, sausages, and burgers. From here, the scenario can play out in two different ways. The first is that you can go to the farm and pick up your beef, which isn’t ready on time and is labeled poorly. The second is that you go to the farm and pick up your beef which is ready, labeled, and comes with two bottles of homemade BBQ sauce the farmer recommends that you try on your steaks.
In both cases, you’re getting the quarter of beef you’ve paid for, but the experience is completely different. One farmer promised something he couldn’t deliver, and the other not only met their promise, but exceeded it as well. Your word is your reputation; break a promise and you’ll lose your customer’s confidence – and their loyalty with it. Keep your promises and watch customer loyalty grow.
4. Be a Friendly Farmer
More than one farmer has said they’re better with animals than they are with people – that’s why they do what they do. But customer loyalty is established when your customers make a connection with you as a person. A friendly smile and a firm handshake will go a long way towards securing steady business from a customer. Treat your customers as you would treat your friends.
– photo courtesy of Sara Jeanne Edwards
5. Stay In Touch with Email Newsletters
If someone meets you at a farmers’ market, buys some fruit, but has no way to stay in touch with you, you’ve just lost the chance to secure a loyal customer. In the age of the Internet, you need to work to stay in touch. You don’t need to call your customers every Thursday and chat about their lives, but the out of sight, out of mind rule does apply. Try offering customers the chance to sign up for an email newsletter. By sending your customers monthly emails letting them know how things are going at the farm and announcing any special deals, you’ll keep your farm present in their minds.
– photo courtesy of Howard Lake
6. Write Thank You Notes
A sincere, handwritten thank-you note is almost unheard of in this day and age – which is why it makes such an impact. Once or twice a year, give some of your most loyal customers a thank-you note along with some extra goodies. As with any relationship, when people feel appreciated, they’re more likely to stick around. As an added bonus, certain gifts may be tax deductible depending on your local laws and regulations.
– photo courtesy of Linda Aslund
Customer Loyalty: Your Farm’s Lifeblood
Remember, it’s not enough to attract customers: you need to keep them around, too. Customer loyalty is what’s going to keep your farm running when the rain won’t come, the equipment breaks down, and the margins get slim.
Link photo by Thomas Lapperre