Fostering customer and community loyalty has never been more critical for small businesses fighting to remain connected to the people and communities around them in a disparate, digital world.

During the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s America’s Top Small Business Summit: Ready. Set. Scale., Jeanette Mulvey, Editor-in-Chief of CO–, moderated a panel on tactics for building customer and community loyalty. Within this panel, three small business owners and representatives discussed how to build trust and emotional connections with customers, as well as how to collaborate with other small businesses to create a community to address customers’ needs.

Foster trust and emotional connection with your customers

Competition is fierce for small businesses, with many brands looking to survive and thrive in the same sectors. As such, fostering an emotional connection rooted in trust with your customers is vital to building loyalty for your business.

Denise Einkauf, the Owner and President of Waggin’ Tails Pet Ranch, discussed the importance of connecting with your customers and clients.

“We have to build trust. If the people don't trust us, they're not going to leave their family with us," said Einkauf. "It does take consistency from the ground up. All of our employees [are] … trained [to] think that that pet is part of our family when they stay [with us], because they're part of the family that drops them off.”

Lillian Werbin, the CEO and Co-owner of music store Elderly Instruments, added that employees are critical in developing an emotional connection with customers.

“I have 25 employees who’ve worked for us for over 25 years, and so they have seen hundreds of customers, and they know them personally,” said Werbin. “The conversation that puts a unique instrument in someone’s hand is very personal. All of our employees ... understand that.”

[Read More: Missed the Summit? Catch the replay here!]

What we’re trying to do is bring business to that downtown space. It boosts everyone up, and that’s really kind of our mission as well to bring that community and [encourage customers] to stay in downtown.

Caitlin Drayna, Events and Community Engagement Coordinator, Shakopee Brewhall

Build a community around your business

In addition to developing an emotional connection with your customers, small business owners and entrepreneurs should also focus on building a community with other businesses in the area.

Caitlin Drayna, the Events and Community Engagement Coordinator of Shakopee Brewhall, shared how their customers and other local businesses benefit from the taproom’s collaboration efforts.

“What we’re trying to do is bring business to that downtown space,” Drayna said. “It boosts everyone up, and that’s really kind of our mission as well to bring that community and [encourage customers] to stay in downtown.”

Werbin also shared how her family’s business expanded to build a global community while retaining customer loyalty for generations.

“There is the global music market, the national music market, and then our local music market. And we try to support at all levels,” said Werbin.

Shipping globally since 1975 while supporting local musicians has fostered customer connection by supplying “the instruments or the platform for people to play together, which promotes music in all sorts of ways,” she added.

Always consider your customers’ needs

Small business owners and entrepreneurs launch businesses to address a pain point or fulfill their customers’ needs. Drayna explained how entrenched listening to your customers should become in your day-to-day business operations to help lead your growth and scale.

“[We] always come back to that question of … ‘What does the customer want? What are they looking for?’” said Drayna, who noted that maintaining a constant pulse on their customer base and having conversations about their needs has been integral to Shakopee Brewhall’s success.

Integrating your customer’s needs can also help expand your business beyond its original scope into interesting new territories. Drayna shared how keeping their customers’ needs at the forefront has helped Shakopee evolve.

“We have a slogan: ‘Share More Than a Beer,’” said Drayna. “And that’s really kind of what drives all of our decision-making when it comes to distribution, planning events in our taproom, and then in the past year and a half, we opened our coffee shop side. And that’s really allowed us to expand on those offerings that we’re able to do, the events that we plan, and the people that come into our space.”

[Read more: America's Top Small Business Awards Gala 2023]

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.