Updated January 29 at 9:29am
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Keeping everyone loyal

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Is customer or employee loyalty lagging at your business these days? Even under the best circumstances it can happen if you take your eye off the ball for even a short while. With so many things to focus on, many business owners sometimes lose sight of just how important customer as well as employee loyalty can be.

Now that the job market is improving a bit in many industries and areas, restless employees may be less inclined to stick around. If they don’t feel like you’ve treated them well or appreciated their hard work, they’ll look for something better.

Customers present an even greater challenge. For most growth-minded entrepreneurs, the tendency is to focus on new business development. But that might have it backwards.

Here are tips to amp up loyalty at a small business – for customers and for employees:

• Provide more frequent progress reports. Show your customer or client the work you’ve been doing and the results you’ve achieved. This will help answer un-asked questions and allay latent fears.

• Get some face time. If you deal mostly by email, Web-connection or phone, make an effort to meet in person. Seeking “face time” says you are interested and gives you an opportunity to literally see things for yourself that can lead to improvements or new business. It’s also a great way to generate referrals.

Ed Hess, a professor at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business, offers these employee loyalty suggestions:

• Say thank you. It seems so simple, but just telling your employees “thank you” when they’ve done a great job will go a long way. Verbal recognition boosts morale and builds mutual respect.

• Give low-cost bonuses and perks. If you can’t give significant raises or bonuses, show appreciation with less-pricey rewards. Options include gift certificates to local restaurants, movie tickets or maybe a paid Friday afternoon off. Also, providing a catered lunch once a month or doughnuts in the morning is a good way to boost loyalty.

• Help them improve themselves. Your employees will appreciate your willingness to help them invest in their futures. Consider paying for them to attend a class at a local community college or a seminar that interests them (and could help your business, too). •

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