We’re all customers. Every day we buy products and services from all sorts of companies, accessing them in a manner of different ways. And whether the purchase is online or offline, there’ll be companies that are great at what they do, and others that simply don’t come up to scratch.
Think for a second about the companies you interact with. Which are the ones you enjoy using? Which are the ones that you return to again and again, and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend? What is it about them that makes them stand out from the crowd?
What we are talking about here is your ‘customer experience’. It can prove an incredibly powerful force, often carrying more weight than just having great products or great pricing. It could be the difference between you keeping hold of a customer, or losing them to a competitor and is a key weapon in your armoury when it comes to achieving a strong competitive edge.
What is a positive ‘customer experience’?
Developing a positive customer experience is about how you interact with your customers, from start to finish and beyond. It is about exceeding their expectations and forming a relationship that promotes loyalty and encourages them to become a fan, so they go on to help spread the word about you organically.
And getting it right is an issue that’s firmly on the agenda for many businesses. A survey of marketing bosses by Gartner reveals 89% predict that customer experience will be their primary basis for competitive differentiation by 2017. More simply put – it’s a big deal.
If you do get it right, the benefits can be huge. The impact on your customer retention levels could be immense. You could be securing yourself customers for life and drastically reducing customer churn. Your customers won’t just be loyal, a high level of customer satisfaction is likely to lead to positive word of mouth and so even higher referral rates. And keeping hold of customers while continuing to grow can only lead to one result – more sales.
Operating with a core focus on customer satisfaction and providing a high quality service can also have a positive impact on your employees’ satisfaction levels. With happy staff equalling more happy customers and higher staff retention.
Having a strategy
But offering a great experience doesn’t just happen by accident, no matter how good your team is and how sleek your sales process. Behind the most successful teams there is likely to be a well-developed customer experience strategy. What is perhaps surprising is that having a formal strategy in place is still not that common.
According to Econsultancy ‘it is becoming less of a luxury and more of a necessity to develop an integrated customer experience’. Despite this, in its global survey it found that just 20% of companies have a well-developed customer experience strategy in place.
So what kind of activity and behaviours may help you develop a stronger customer experience within your own organisation?
Top 10 ways to drive a positive customer experience
1. Really show you understand your customers – avoid being ‘generic’ and just churning out email after email to your mailing list. Instead tailor your customer experiences based on the different types of customers you have. The more you can break down your list, the more effective you’ll be. That way you can make sure your value proposition is as tailored as possible to what those individuals will be interested in.
2. Be consistent in your delivery – it shouldn’t matter who a customer speaks to, or which department they receive information from, the quality and messages should be the same. A high level of customer experience should be followed right through to the delivery of the product and all aftercare. CRMs can prove useful here, as they can help act as a central source of information for different teams to use.
3. Exceed expectations again and again – be consistent across teams but also work hard to ensure that you continue to deliver a positive customer experience every time a customer comes to you. Strive to exceed a customer’s expectations every time they interact with you. Ensure you have the processes and ongoing training in place to make this happen. Make it just ‘how we do things here’ and set those high standards as the norm.
4. Offer exceptional customer service – get as close as you possibly can to providing real-time customer support 24/7 and remember even the most unhappy customer has the potential to be made into one of the company’s biggest ambassadors. It’s how you handle their complaint that counts. In these situations you need to display strong communication skills, to listen, be understanding and to find a solution. Have a team member take personal ownership of a complaint, seeing it through to the end and following up to check the customer is happy.
5. Be accountable and own up when there’s a problem - never try to get away with it and just sweep any problems under the carpet. We all make mistakes from time to time. It’s ok. Even the best laid plans can go pear-shaped. Show you’re genuinely sorry and look at every option you have for making it better. Be sure to ask customers for their feedback and what would help the situation in their opinion. Listen, act on the feedback, and try to put steps in place so it won’t happen again.
6. It’s good to talk – people will always prefer speaking to people. Offer a phone consultation as part of the induction stage, while the customer is getting on board with your product or service. Or even better, offer for a team member to visit the company’s premises, if that’s feasible for your business model. Offer multiple ways to stay in touch, including ongoing telephone support. Be proactive, make calls to check they’re happy. Not to upsell or with any other agenda than to ensure you have a satisfied customer.
7. Be innovative and always add value – think how you can provide added value to your customers that goes above and beyond your products. What can you be doing to continually remind them that you’re thinking of them and understand them? This may include membership of a customer-only group that gives them special deals from outside your organisation. You could provide freebies or digital items, or even consider holding special customer events at an amazing venue or location.
8. Cherish your top brand ambassadors – going beyond the added value you are offering to all your customers and fans, take special care of your top brand ambassadors. Host an activity for your top customers, giving you a chance to see them face to face, in a fun setting, while offering them a chance to network with other organisations. You could also highlight power users on your platform. Interview them for a profile, write about them and their company.
9. Invest in your team – many leading businesses will tell you that the equation for success is very simple: happy employees = happy customers. Invest in your team and their happiness and training, and customer satisfaction will rise. Empower them to deal with issues and to take ownership. Ensure they understand where their role sits within wider company goals and explain what you’re all working together to achieve. Promoting a culture of transparency, where people are valued and fully engaged, will give you a great foundation to work from.
10. Invest in technology - make it easy for your company to deliver outstanding customer experiences by investing in the right tools for your business and team. Intelligent software, such as that available from Lead Forensics, can help you in so many ways. It can help you build a detailed picture of each individual customer and new prospects, so you can tailor your offering from start to finish. You can automate systems so the right communications go out to the right person at the right time and nothing is ever missed. And you can see what marketing content is the most effective and which needs enhancing. The possibilities are endless.
Don’t forget your website and looking at ways your online customer experience there can also be improved. Here is a quick check list of things to think about, to ensure your website is working for your customers:
- Is your website just an online brochure, or has it been designed around your customers, aiming to provide them with the strongest experience possible? Has the site been structured based on a customer's point of view and does it include all the content they will want to see?
- How easy is it for visitors to navigate around your website and to find the information they want? Is the information then presented in a clear, easy to understand format, that’s hitting the right pitch and tone?
- Are you asking too much too soon? If you’re using forms, do you absolutely need to know everything you are asking, when you are asking it?
- Does your website load quickly and look good on any device screen – including mobile, tablet and PC?
- Does it make it super easy for visitors to contact you, share content or get a quote?
- Do you have a full and detailed FAQ page, including the obvious ones but also ones your sales, marketing and customer services teams may have heard? Answer what real people are asking you.
By focusing on developing a strong and positive customer experience, you’ll be upping your game on all levels. Differentiating yourself from competitors and winning customers and brand ambassadors for life. As a final word, this quote from Maya Angelou says it all: "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."