When is the last time you asked your customers what the one thing is that could make doing business with you even better? That question, according to a Forbes contributor Jeff Bevis, is the start of a conversation you should be having regularly with your clients and customers. It’s their answers and advice that will point to areas of your business that need a tune-up for optimum customer experience (CX) performance. Yet, says research and advisory firm Forrester, 39% of business leaders never bother to ask.
Don’t be part of that statistic. Companies that consistently delight customers outperform their competitors every time. Analysis by management consulting firm Bain & Company shows that “companies that excel in customer optimization grow revenues 4%–8% above their market.” Establishing that emotional connection with customers, not simply delivering quality service or honoring warranties, is the engine that creates and sustains truly exceptional CX. Just take a look at brands like Walt Disney, Trader Joes, Zappos.com and Etsy. These customer experience experts and leaders haven’t achieved success simply by being nice to customers. They are connecting with customers – or guests, as Walt Disney chooses to call them – at every single touchpoint across their organization. They don’t react; they anticipate and then implement changes and processes that eliminate areas of dissatisfaction at the root.
If you’re not an industry giant with a big team of customer experience experts onboard (or have a budget for a big name consulting firm), don’t feel left out of the CX conversation. Small business often has the advantage, thanks to much more flexibility and an often speedier response time to customer feedback.
Here are six actions that will get you well on the road to optimize your customers into passionate advocates for your brand and business:
- To get answers, ask questions: The majority of your customers won’t tell you what annoys them – they’ll simply disappear (or tell the world about their bad experience). That’s why voice of the customer research is so important, especially to small businesses where core customer satisfaction and loyalty are critical to profitability. Asking clients what’s wrong or right while they’re in the process of doing business with you can be as simple and cost-effective as a pop-up feedback survey on your website. The voice of your customer shouldn’t just be heard on one frequency, either. Make sure you gather feedback in multiple channels, from employees to prospects to existing customers. Most importantly, don’t forget to loop back customer feedback to your front lines. And remember, if you’re currently only sending out surveys about past experiences, it’s already too late and they’re most likely posting their negative review, says customer interaction software firm, Kipsu.
- Create an online “Easy Street.”Does your website give your customers a clear and simple path to your brick-and-mortar front door via mapping? Your toll-free service number? Your social media platforms? Your email? Your voice mail system? A frequently-asked-questions section that resolves common inquiries fast? Is your website mobile-optimized so on-the-go customers can easily access all your information on their phone? A great online user experience is key to CX success, according to the experts at American Express Open Forum. Whether you have an e-commerce site or a simple business-to-business portal, make sure it’s simple to find, navigate and quickly delivers the right content.
- Put empathy into practice.“Putting yourself into your customers’ shoes” isn’t a new approach, but regardless of its cliché status it is still rarely practiced. While most small business owners don’t have the budget to create solutions to customer pain points to the extent that large brands do, you don’t have to spend a fortune. According to a Salesforce.com blog on the topic, shadowing employees, mystery calling and other low-cost/high value tactics can give you clarity on what’s bugging your customers. When’s the last time you called your own service department or customer care number with a problem and listened to “your” resolution? Go ahead, be the proverbial Undercover Boss.
- Make a map of the journey. It’s easy to talk about customer touchpoints, but do you actually know all the different ways that your customers are connecting with you every day? To create the perfect customer experience, you need to deliver more than just wonderful service behind the counter, on the phone or via your website. Often called customer journey maps, at their simplest they can be you and your team, a whiteboard or even a heap of sticky notes. You can’t go into tactical mode until you truly map out all the various points where your customers interact with you today, from your digital presence to retail store employees to your after-hours phone recording.
- Don’t just fix what’s broken – make it all better. In customer service, the squeaky wheel generally does get the grease – and frankly, that’s sad. Companies that are Customer Experience masters don’t just spend money on turning single customer wrongs into rights, they allocate time and money to get to the root of the problem. Think preventive maintenance: find the root cause of a customer issue or dissatisfaction and address it to make experiences better across the board.
- Commit to continued education. There are numerous resources to inspire you and your team, including blogs by leading Customer Experience experts in the CX field. Check out the Heart of the Customer blog where CX consultant Jim Tincher and team deliver a weekly dose of solid tips and tools. You can also sign up for one of the dozens of conferences that bring top CX brands together and give you the chance to hear how they’re creating customer-obsessed organizations in person. You’ll also discover various online tools that help you monitor and strengthen your customer connections.
Lastly, don’t forget to pay attention to your customers’ positive feedback. Understanding what specifically is already delighting your customers will reveal valuable communication points for your sales and marketing efforts (including customer case studies and testimonials).
Remember: exceptional CX is a philosophy, not a department or a strategy. It starts with you, the business owner and ends with your most junior-level employee. Ultimately, as outlined in this valuable Harvard Business Review article, it’s the cumulative experience across multiple touchpoints that will earn your customers’ trust, keep them coming back and inspiring them to refer you to their friends, families, airplane seatmates and others they come into contact with daily.