Habits can be good or bad. It all depends on what you make of them. Whether you realize it or not, you make habits every day, whether you avoid certain things or nurture certain commitments. When it comes to business, there’s nothing better than to become a regular habit for your customers.

Howard Tullman, a professor in entrepreneurship at the Illinois Institute of Technology, says the best way to accomplish this desirable status is to look to your own behaviors for keys and cues that drive your personal actions. You then must incorporate these drivers into how you sustain your client connections. In this issue of Promotional Consultant Today, we share Tullman’s ABCs of keeping your customers coming back.

A = anticipate needs. Smart companies must get a few steps ahead of their customers if they want to keep them, says Tullman. Saving them time, helping them be more productive and showing them how to make smarter decisions for their own benefit are all ways of demonstrating that your business is in the business of looking out for them. Getting the job done is table stakes; helping your customers get a jump on the future is the golden ring.

B = beat expectations. There’s just no question that the businesses that succeed today are completely committed to continuously raising the bar in order to meet the growing demands and expectations of their customers. Customers’ expectations are perpetually progressive. Yesterday’s miracles are today’s so-whats, according to Tullman. It’s all about surprise and delight. No one owns the customer anymore; we’re obliged to earn their trust and loyalty in every transaction and on every single day.

C = consistently deliver. Consumers have the luxury of being unforgiving. In many cases, if you mess up at the outset, you’ll never get a second chance to make a first (or any) impression because they won’t stick around to give you that opportunity. But your existing customers have already decided that it makes sense to deal with you as long as you continue to execute and to deliver the goods. It takes years to develop trust, confidence and the kinds of bonds that won’t break under the slightest stress, but it’s nothing you should take for granted in this what-have-you-done-for-me-lately marketplace.

D = deepen connections. The very best customers are the ones you already have, and the easiest money is earned by increasing your share of their spend or, as McDonald’s used to say, your share of their stomach, says Tullman. So much of business efficiency today is about mining targeted slices and niches segmented from the broader general population and also about reaching the right customers-the ones who are engaged, connected and willing to spend on an ongoing basis. It makes no sense to play a volume game where you’re focusing on traffic metrics rather than working to build a real and specific audience for your products and services.

E = evidence. Everyone’s an expert today on almost everything and they’re happy to share their expertise with your customers. It’s important that you help your customers do their homework and feel smart about the choices they’ve made to do business with you, says Tullman. You need to make sure they have the facts, the formulas and the ammunition to support their decision to choose and then to stick with you.

Want your customers to be in the habit of choosing you? Help them along by learning the ABCs above.

Source: Howard Tullman is executive director of the Ed Kaplan Family Institute for Innovation and Tech Entrepreneurship and a professor in entrepreneurship at Illinois Institute of Technology. He is the former CEO of Chicago-based 1871, a top-ranked university-affiliated incubator for 500 digital startups.