"You don't earn loyalty in a day. You earn loyalty day-by-day." - Jeffrey Gitomer

There are many forms of marketing at your disposal, that not only can keep your business on an even keel, but give it enough boost to sustain it well into the future. Studio owners have been known to pay big bucks to figure out ways to both bring in new customers and retain their hard-won current ones.

Let's take a look at a successful marketing tool many studio owners often overlook-that of customer retention. It's one thing to get customers in the door, but it's another to keep them loyal to you for many years. Customer retention is a very important component of a healthy bottom line. Keeping your customers satisfied should be something you attend to constantly. Studio owners who care enough to invest in ways to keep their customers satisfied, understand the value of doing everything they can to prevent their customers from going to the competition.

Here are some important things to consider when creating or enhancing a customer-appreciation program for your studio;

1) Where are you now?

To take a bold step into your future, you must be aware of your present circumstances. What has worked for you when it comes to appreciating your customers? What hasn't? What is your vision for the future of your studio and how will you take your customers along with you? What staff members would you motivate to help you with a program to reward your customers?

2) Collect ideas.

Now you need to go about collecting various ideas on what a customer appreciation program would look like for you. Research what your competition is doing. Also remember to look outside the studio industry to see what other businesses do to keep their customers. Look for those programs that are truly innovative. "Different" and "User-Friendly" really work when it comes to a program such as this. The more unique and out-of-the-box a customer retention program is, the more it will stand out and be noticed. The easier and more user-friendly the program is for your customers, the more who will sign up. Customers love to brag that they are a member of something no one else has.

There are many wonderful examples of excellent customer appreciation programs out there. Airlines with their frequent flier reward plans, credit cards with their dollar incentive rewards, and retailers with special monthly deals for cumulative purchases made.

Studios have forged new ground in retention programs. One outfit rewards its dance students by issuing something called a "Loyalty Card." The card is validated at each class taken, which in turn goes toward free lessons after ten classes. Once the first card is full, a second card is issued with even more rewards-and so on and so forth. This way the customer base grows more loyal with each card that is issued as the years accumulate.

3) The Program

Now that you have an idea of what a serviceable customer appreciation program might look like, make sure your program is something unique and different. Is it fun? Is it easy for your customers to understand and use? Is the program something that you can easily market? If you still aren't sure if your program will work, try it on a 'trial run' basis.

4) Is Everyone On Board?

Once you have your program in place, your staff needs to understand not only how it works, but how to market it successfully, as well. Communication is the key here. Make it easy for your staff to understand. Create a special training seminar to teach the basics. You also might want to think about creating a bit of an incentive for your staff to "sell" it to your customers. How many sign-ups do you want after the first month? Set a goal and do everything you can to realize it. Give your staff two weeks to sign as many students up as possible. The staff member with the most sign-ups by the end of the two-week window will receive a gift card or similar reward. The more you make it fun for those involved, the easier it will sell and ultimately become the success you've envisioned the program to be.

5) Ready, Get Set - GO!

The day has finally come. Your program is ready to launch. Why not give it the send off it deserves? Turn this into a major marketing event and figure out ways to generate a real buzz within your marketing area. Social media is a great and unique way to get the word out about a program such as this. Flyers, signs and anything else you can think of to get the momentum going will serve you well as the weeks go by. Have your staff live and breathe this program until you've attained the goal you've all envisioned.

6) Cruising Altitude

Once your retention program is out of the gate, don't just leave it there to have a life of its own. Be proactive with it and watch how the program does with every twist and turn. You'll most likely need to make adjustments to make your program customer- and staff-friendly. Remember, don't be afraid of failure. If things don't work out as well as you might have thought, no problem. Tweak things to make them better. As in so many things, it's the journey and not the destination that's important to remember here.

A viable customer retention program can give your studio the boost it needs with the added benefit of keeping your hard-earned customers loyal to you for years to come. Remember, you've got to give a little to get more in return. Nobody knows your customers more than you do. Just give them what they want, and as long as it also works for you, it can truly be a win-win situation you can take to the bank!