By David Jones

Small businesses often have to work within a strict budget, so finding inexpensive ways to motivate customers is essential for growth. By starting with employees and existing customers, small businesses can see a higher return on investment than if they spent the whole budget recruiting new business. Try some or all of these ideas to motivate customers:

1. Keep employees engaged.

The customer experience will never surpass the employee experience so make sure your employees aren’t costing you customers. According to the RightNow Customer Experience Impact Report, 89 percent of customers have stopped doing business with a company after experiencing poor customer service. Taking the time to walk with a customer to a requested product instead of pointing and giving directions makes a difference as some customers are more sensitive to the level of service than price. According to Defaqto Research, 55 percent of consumers are willing to pay more for a better customer experience.

2. Make your customers feel special.

Loyalty programs are more effective when the customer’s experience is altered in some way. Invite top shoppers or clients to VIP events: open the store an hour early or give exclusive behind the scenes access to your business. Airlines do this well by giving business class passengers exclusive access to areas of the airport and letting them board first. Scale that down and think about ways you can make your customer’s life easier.

3. Retaining customers is less expensive than driving new business.

Your current customers are already familiar with your brand and hopefully have had a good experience with your product or service. It is 6-7 times more costly to attract a new customer than it is to retain an existing customer (White House Office of Consumer Affairs). You don’t have to be pushy to upsell, just listen to customer feedback and eliminate pain points. Make sure you’re addressing customer complaints, especially if the complaint is in a public environment such as social media. Potential customers may be turned off if they see other customers aren’t having their concerns addressed.

4. Offer an incentive for completing a desired behavior.

Offer a door prize or host a raffle during a promotion to encourage shoppers to visit your store. Offer an incentive for referrals or for completing a survey. Whatever you select should be general enough to satisfy a broad audience but personalized enough to be memorable. Prepaid cards branded with your company logo and customized to the recipient. According to a study by the Incentive Research Foundation, 79 percent of people remember what they bought with a gift card and 42 percent of them associate the item with the giver. Rather than giving a woman her seventeenth tote bag as an incentive for her next cosmetics purchase, try giving her the freedom to buy something she needs or wants in the color and style that fits her lifestyle.

David Jones is the CEO of CardLab, Inc., an online leading provider of gift cards and incentive cards.