In today’s ultra-competitive business environment, ensuring a positive customer experience can separate you from the pack. But what exactly does customer experience entail?
How you communicate with customers, the product support you offer them and the image they have of your company all contribute to the customer experience, says Blake Morgan, author More is More: How the Best Companies Work Harder And Go Farther to Create Knock-Your-Socks-Off Customer Experiences. Put another way, Morgan says, “it’s the perception the customer has of your brand, shaped by a series of interactions, experiences and touchpoints.”
Taking a passive approach to customer experience by letting the chips fall where they may and troubleshooting problems after they arise can be a shortsighted approach. To deliver a winning customer experience, you need to get ahead of customer perception and manage it throughout the business life cycle.
If customers have a difficult time getting help with a product they purchased from you, for example, they probably won’t think highly of your company. But if your support staff is quick to respond, friendly and helpful, customers will be more likely to come back and recommend your business to others.
Boosting the customer experience can propel your business ahead of the competition. Here’s how to get started.
Make customer experience a priority
“Given the rise of always-on mobile customers, the key to differentiating your brand today is through a customer experience strategy that’s woven into your fundamental business strategy,” says Robb Hecht, marketing professor of marketing at Baruch College.
Morgan agrees. “Customer experience is a business strategy,” she says. “Most companies struggle with simply being customer-focused over being product-focused. Make this simple shift and it will greatly impact everything about your business.”
Taking the time to improve your processes so customers don’t bombard you for help is a good start. “Many companies don’t focus on efficiencies and as a result spend much of their time putting out fires,” Morgan explains. Instead, she advises creating “a culture of preventative care.”
Automating more of your processes can be a big help, Morgan suggests. So can soliciting customer feedback and putting it to good use.
“Just because you’re a small business doesn’t mean you can’t act like a big business,” Morgan says. “There are many amazing CRM tools out there that will help you create more seamless experiences for customers.”
Go above and beyond for your customers
“It’s now a customer-first world where brand expectations are high,” Hecht says. The more value you give customers, the greater their loyalty will be. Think coupons, rewards, free and quick shipping, product recommendations, recognition of customer shopping preferences and self-service features like FAQs and demos.
Jeff Neal, operations manager of The Critter Depot, which sells live crickets to reptile and amphibian owners, will attest to that. The company’s website features numerous FAQs, video tutorials and pet care guides written by zoologists and herpetologists. Besides adding value to customers, this free information helps lighten the load of the company’s four customer agents.
“Our videos and care guides have definitely reduced the amount of incoming emails,” Neal says. One of the biggest questions customers used to ask The Critter Depot was how to store the hundreds of live crickets they’d receive at once, he says. But now pet owners can find an easy-to-follow tutorial on the company website.
Offering personalized service is a must, too. The Critter Depot’s customers can share their pet profile to their online account. “When they place an order, this lets the agent see what type of pet they’re feeding, which gives us the chance to make important suggestions to boost their diet,” Neal says. He estimates that adding this feature has boosted customer retention by at least 50 percent. “Now customers see that we’re concerned about ‘Spike’ or ‘Mango’ or any other pet they’re caring for,” he says.
In addition, The Critter Depot, which uses breathable packing insulation for its shipments, guarantees live delivery within two to three days. “We know our customers need these crickets to feed their beloved pet,” Neal says. “So it’s important they arrive in a timely manner and in great health.”
Offer multiple channels of support
Today’s customers have higher expectations thanks to the ubiquity of smartphones and social media. Consumers favor businesses that provide immediate customer support, Hecht says. Millennial and Generation Z shoppers, in particular, prefer using mobile websites, social media and automated chatbots for customer support, he adds.
But delivering a satisfying customer experience in this hyperconnected business environment takes effort. “The customer wants to be served on the channel they came in on,” Morgan says. What’s more, she adds, customers expect instantaneous updates on their wait time. Otherwise, they may contact you on all your channels at once out of frustration.
Like many small businesses, Moms Can & Co., a job leads and code training service for mothers, offers customers the option of interacting via email, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and live chats on Slack. “Customers can directly contact me or one of the instructors or managers of our online programs at any time,” says founder and CEO Erica Peterson. “In order to engage and retain customers, it’s important to listen to theirs needs and share ways for them to directly communicate with real people, not chatbots.”
Give back to society
Study after study shows consumers prefer to spend their money on products and brands that do some good in the world. That might mean reducing your carbon footprint as many corporate leaders have done. Or it might mean donating a percentage of your proceeds to worthy causes like online retailers TOMS and Warby Parker do.
When it comes to corporate social responsibility, authenticity is key. Feign interest in social causes just to score points with customers and they’ll see right through it.
Consider Noah Glanville, who served as a Navy corpsman in Iraq and owns Pit Barrel Cooker Co., which sells “hook and hang” drum-shaped grills. Since founding the company in 2010 with his wife Amber, Glanville has prioritized supporting the veteran community. PBC seeks out veterans during the hiring process. The company also gives customers who are military, police and fire veterans a custom logo plate featuring their branch or department with their purchase at no extra charge. In addition, PBC donates a portion of those sales to charities serving veterans and first responders.
“From our perspective, this is less about appealing to potential customers and more about an inherent shared commitment,” Glanville says.
Get employees on board
Even the best customer engagement strategy will fall flat if your employees don’t share your zeal for your product. Hiring people with an upbeat, customer-focused, can-do attitude is the first step. Training them to provide outstanding service during each customer interaction is the second.
Glanville places a premium on employing enthusiastic customer service workers and ensuring they know how to use his products. “Many of our customer care staff cook on the Pit Barrel Cooker a few times a week and are passionate about the product,” Glanville says. “But most importantly, we ensure they have the personality for the job and really enjoy helping our customers get the most out of their PBC.”
Enabling salespeople and customer-facing reps to fulfill various customer needs is also crucial, Morgan says. “Don’t make employees get your approval for every single customer request,” Morgan explains. “Life happens for customers; allow the person in front of them to fix their problem. Think of the experiences you would like to have as a customer. Then go build them for your own customers.”
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