Happy customers are more likely to tell their friends about your company, and word of mouth is considered the most powerful form of marketing, according to a Nielsen study. To build customer loyalty, you first have to understand how to build trust, which takes time and patience. Here are five habits to follow that will help keep your customers satisfied and loyal.

1. Put Customers' Needs Before Sales

The main focus of your business shouldn't be to make the sale; it should be solving customers' problems or fulfilling their needs. If you don't have the right product or service, don't try to make a sale by suggesting an inadequate solution. Instead, be honest. If you know where the customer can find what they want, consider directing them there. They'll appreciate the fact that you care about them, and they may be more likely to remember you and your business next time.

2. Don't Over Promise

Do what you say you're going to do, and provide what you promise to provide. This one habit can help you stand out from your competition. Talking up your company now could mean disappointing your customer later on; wouldn't it be better to delight them by ultimately over delivering?

3. Strive for Transparency

Honesty is the best policy when it comes to communicating with customers. Ninety-four percent of people are likely to be loyal to a brand that offers complete transparency, according to a study from the market research firm Label Insight. If you made a mistake or have bad news to share, address the issue directly and be upfront by explaining what happened and — most importantly — what you're going to do to keep it from happening again. Customers are smart. One untruth can lose you their trust — and their business.

4. Be Consistent

When it comes to price, quality, timing and performance, make sure your business offers the same experience with each visit. When a customer can predict the outcome, they may be more likely to trust you. If you increase prices or update a product, make sure you alert the customer before they buy so they know what to expect. And if you are offering a special incentive for new customers, offer it to existing customers, too, so they know they are valued.

5. Watch Your Language

Negative communication reflects poorly on you. If your company makes a mistake, own it and apologize instead of making an excuse or blaming someone else. Don't vent on social media. And make sure you don't speak poorly of your competition. You may think you're making yourself look better, but you're really looking unprofessional.

Your reputation is the key to your success, and understanding how to build trust starts with stellar customer service. When you think about how you like to be treated as a customer and develop a customer service policy that reflects that standard, you can help build a business that is fueled by loyal customers.

Tags: customer loyalty Customer Relationships