Even considering having to ask yourself this question as a business owner can make you break out in a cold sweat.

There are a number of business owners who do have to ask themselves this question. The challenge is, do they take responsibility for what has happened or do they start to make excuses and blame other people and things?

I know of one business owner in particular who may well be asking himself this question in the coming months. For the last 5 years we have used the same person to do our ironing. Every two weeks he has picked up laundry for ironing and returned it beautifully ironed just the way I like it.

We have been so happy with his service that we have referred him to many of our friends. I am sure many of his other customers have done the same. It has been really exciting to watch his business grow and him doing so well, and then… something changed. My shirts weren’t happening quite the way they used to. He became a little less flexible in when he could and couldn’t pick up our laundry and my shirts weren’t always ironed the way I like them. We mentioned this to him a few times but nothing much changed.

Then one day one of my shirts came back with a burn on it. I understand that these things happen. When my wife called him and bought it to his attention he didn’t apologise or thank her for bringing it to his attention, he just replied by asking what would you like me to do about it? My wife was left speechless by his perceived indifference!

Unless something changes, it is highly likely he will be waking up one day and asking where did all my customers go?

It will be easy to blame the economy, competitors, staff, the pet goldfish and everything in between. The harsh reality is that there will be only one person who is responsible for what is inevitably going to happen.

Here are 7 things you can do so you never have to ask the question:

1) Remember how hard you worked and how good you felt when you got your first few customers. A business exists because of its customers. it’s something so simple and yet so many people forget this as their business grows.

2) Always deliver great value. Price is what you pay, value is what you get. As demand increases for your product or service, it is easy to increase your prices, just make sure that you are still delivering exceptional value.

3) Provide great customer service. Customer service is a bit like beauty, it’s in the eye of the beholder. Find out what is important to your customers and make sure you deliver on this. As a side note, I like my collars ironed with a crisp fold not flat!

4) Reward your loyal customers. A reward doesn’t necessarily mean give them a discount or even something for free, one of the greatest rewards can just be some recognition. Thanking them for a customer and making them feel good about spending their money with you.

5) Be aware of your competitors. Your competitors will be evolving and looking for a competitive advantage, just like you did and hopefully, are still doing. You want to know who your competitors are and what they are doing. It is very important that you focus on running your business, however, dedicating just a little bit of time researching your industry and competitors can help keep you ahead of the game. Using ironing as an example, I have now discovered these great dress shirts that don’t need ironing. I am serious, I wear them all the time and no one knows the difference. Guess how many people I have told about these shirts?

6) Invest in technology and equipment. What is considered cutting edge today will almost be obsolete tomorrow (I may have exaggerated a little). The challenge is you want to make sure that you are at least keeping up with your industry if not leading it. Before you spend money, consider these two questions. Is it going to help me get more customers and/or is it going to help me keep my customers for longer?

7) Know that good times breed bad habits. When things are going well most people think that they will just continue that way and they take their eye off the ball. Stay focused on your customers, your team, you and your business.

One of the biggest assets in a business is loyalty. A business with loyal and dedicated customers will always do better. It has been said that it costs up to 7 times more to get a new customer than keep an existing customer.

Be thoughtful and mindful about what you can do to invest in your existing customers so they can be more loyal and dedicated to your business and you will never need to ask the question, where did my customers go?