It's no secret that reaching out to previous customers not only costs less; it usually yields better lead results. But how often you contact them and the way you do it could make the difference in whether or not those past customers become repeat customers. Many home improvement companies have discovered that the Internet is especially effective in gaining the attention of previous customers without annoying them or disturbing their privacy.

Recently, for instance, Creative Wood Products, a deck and sunroom company in Fenton, Mich., replaced its quarterly newsletter with a monthly e-mail campaign. “It is our greatest resource for repeat customers,” owner Dennis Schaefer says. “Every time we send an e-mail, there's something of value in it so people will want to read it.”

LONG-TERM RELATIONSHIP The e-mails, which include an opt-out link, have information about discounts, new products or building processes, or a promotional campaign, such as the company's Fall Family Fun Day. “We want our customers to believe this is a long-term relationship,” Schaefer says. “By staying in front of them, we're the obvious choice.”

Shorter, more frequent interactions are great for building lasting relationships with your customers, says Paul Kowal, founder of Kowal & Associates, a marketing consulting firm that strives to improve the connection between companies and their customers. “The best way to do that is to find things that are useful to them, rather than to just request business,” Kowal says. This could include tips on deck staining, new window or siding products, or even an invitation to sign up for the company's newsletter.

Advanced Siding, Window and Sunroom Co. has found success with this approach. The Brentwood, N.H., company uses its Web site and quarterly newsletter to offer articles about remodeling and new products. “[That approach] lets customers know that we do several things,” says co-owner Wayne Wilusz. In addition to the newsletter, the company mails customers a survey 30 days after the job is complete, then again a year later to ensure customer satisfaction.

REQUEST PERMISSION Following up a job with a thank-you call or note is an excellent way to gain future business, Kowal says. It's also a good time to ask the customer if you can stay in touch. “Asking permission at the beginning usually leads to more people consenting,” he says. “If the customer had a good experience the first time around, chances are follow-up interactions will be well-received.”

—Amy Campbell is a freelance writer in Phoenix.