When you run a business, you have to pay attention to everything. Infrastructure. Cash flow. Training your employees. But having a well-run business hardly matters if you don't have customers fueling your business. And that's where your customer experience strategy comes in. You won't have customers (besides your parents and friends) if people don't enjoy the experience of engaging with your company.
That may seem like common sense, sure. But it may be easy to miss when you're worried about your web traffic, your marketing campaign and the myriad of other potential problems you're focused on preventing. While you're doing everything you can to get customers in the door, or on the website or however you bring them into your business, are you doing enough to make sure everything is going well once they're there? Because if they don't have a good experience, they probably aren't coming back.
Your customer experience strategy matters. If you don't have one (or if you want to improve yours), there are several ways to go about creating it.
1. Ask your customers how you can improve.
“Ask your clients to be honest and give you the privilege of knowing what is their number one problem they are having with your service," says Dave Claflin, CEO of Fastest Labs, a franchise that does drug, DNA and alcohol testing that is headquartered in San Antonio.
“Find out by studying where the log jam occurs and causes frustration within your industry and solve the problem," he continues. "Then make it your mission to shine the light on how you are solving their concerns by offering a better customer experience."
Chances are, customers will tell you, and you'll get an earful, particularly if you're in the service industry, according to Claflin.
“Every service industry has a reputation and or stereotype for poor service and causing irritation to the end client," Claflin says. “So look hard and dig deep and figure out what is plaguing your service industry and build on that shortfall."
2. Tweak your customer experience strategy regularly.
Everything changes, which is why you may need to make sure you're changing, too.
Customers get older, and new ones come along. Society changes (think of everything from drones to smartphones and self-driving cars). What may have worked for your business five years ago may not work today, and what worked five weeks ago may not work now either.
—Albert Arazi, owner, Miko
That last part—five weeks?—may sound like an exaggeration, but if your business is a restaurant, or you have a favorite one you dine at, you'll get it. People get tired of eating the same thing, which is why menus often offer daily specials.
People get weary of looking at the same things, too, according to Laura Cummins, who is based out of Flemington, New Jersey, and owns Nine Dotz Consulting, a social media marketing firm. She recommends stores change their features every four to six weeks.
“Changing the look of a retail area creates excitement," Cummins says.
Not that you have to change everything.
“Begin at the entrance by creating eye-catching window displays," she advises. "If a business tells a great story, then people passing by are going to be more apt to come in the store to see how this story continues."
Any business can take a page from Cummins' playbook. Manufacturers, for instance, may need to update equipment to meet demand and create products more efficiently. Every business has to step up its game in customer service eventually; you simply need to devise a plan in which you continually or occasionally examine how you can improve your customers' experiences. Because your competitors are probably doing that, too.
3. Treat your employees well.
You've probably heard this advice before, but it bears repeating.
Albert Arazi owns Miko, an online retail store headquartered in Brooklyn, New York that specializes in kitchenware, glass and barware and massage products. Araz says that the best way to make your customers have a terrific experience is to lavish attention on your staff.
“My advice to improving your customers' experience is improving your employees' experience and morale. It's selling your employees on your vision and keeping them happy and motivated," Miko says.
Claflin seconds that thought. Before he founded Fastest Labs in 2008, he owned a Merry Maids and then a Worldwide Express franchise.
“We learned that to offer the best service, you have to show you care about your clients' needs but also the needs of your employees," he says.
As you're working on a customer experience strategy, you may want to also treat your employees like they really matter. Because they do. After all, they're the ones who are going to be at the front lines. If your employees don't connect with you or your business, your customers may pick up on that.
4. Zero in on procedures as part of your customer experience strategy.
You may find that your customer service can be improved simply by looking at how you do certain things at your business.
For instance, The New York Times wrote an article about how the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the New York City subway, was trying a new approach when it came to delays. Instead of offering up a generic answer for a delay, such as the train is being held up traffic, the subway dispatchers have been told to tell the truth, even if the truth is unpleasant. It was reported that passengers were much happier and calmer hearing actual reasons for delays. (Not thrilled, however—a delay is still a delay.)
Bret Bonnet, founder and co-owner of Chicago-based promotional product distributor Quality Logo Products, says that the company started looking at how customers interact with his company several years ago. The company decided that the website should answer the two most popular questions customers had as quickly and transparently as possible:
How much is it going to cost and when can I get it?
After four years of development (and lots of delays), Bonnet says the company came up with a pricing technology that lets customers see their guaranteed total and delivery date on the page load. The moment you choose a product, you know how much you'll pay and when you'll get it.
Since the website's relaunch last March, “we've seen a huge increase—more than 100 percent—in the number of online orders placed," Bonnet says. “The unsolicited feedback from customers has also been excellent."
And how did Bonnet come to recognize that the website needed work? Because while asking your customers for opinions on how you can improve is important, so is talking to your staff and getting their feedback.
Bonnet learned that pretty much everyone who called in wanted to know how much everything would cost and when they could get it.
“We figured the website was doing a terrible job of answering those questions, so we put this information front and center," Bonnet says. “The end result is actually kind of cool because we ended up getting fewer phone calls than we did in prior years, but we're getting more orders. [That] tells me we are converting the customers at a higher rate and with fewer touches, which means those same orders are now even more profitable."
Your customer experience strategy doesn't necessarily need to be complex. It really can come down to doing a good job, asking questions regularly and being a nice person to both your clients and employees. And really, isn't that why you went into business in the first place?
Read more articles on customer relations.