Create the greatest customer experience ever. Here are five simple starting places to help you differentiate your business from your competitor.
Do you have a small business that’s struggling to differentiate itself? Is your service acceptable, but still well short of even your own expectations?
Maybe you’re the uneasy captain of a giant corporate function where growth has stalled and your “loyal” customers keep looking for other options. Many elements can make a business fail, but one piece of every wildly successful business you should grab is the “customer experience.”
It’s just too easy to be great at this to let it be a reason for failure. And, as you may already know, so many of your competitors are miserable at creating a fantastic customer experience that this will create a huge competitive opportunity for you. Creating a great customer experience is both incredibly simple and the hardest thing you’ll ever do.
There is nothing magic or mysterious about an incredible customer experience, but you have to turn your mind inside out. You already spend 100 hours a week focused internally on staffing, sales, inventory, production, billing, shipping, and fixing. Carve out a few hours every week to focus on delivering the greatest customer experience ever.
Here are Five Simple Starting Points
These initial ideas should be free or pay back within 1 month. If your ideas don’t pass this test then keep thinking. If you’re new to this then there should be 2 to 3 years of free ideas before you have to make any significant investments.
1) Focus inside out and look at your business the way a customer does. You can’t do this yourself because you know too much about how it’s supposed to work. Ask friends, family, relatives, acquaintances and strangers to buy or use your company’s products and services. Get brutally honest feedback about how it really works from a customer’s perspective. Don’t focus on the routine, everyone does the ordinary well enough. It’s the exceptions and the crises that make businesses rise or fall. Have a friend return a broken item or call with an emergency request. 99 times out of 100 your staff will not be treating the exceptions the same way you-as the owner-would have treated that customer. Why? Because you’ve issued a policy that they are naive enough to follow to the letter. Anyone can train their staff, you have to train your staff to think.
2) Listen actively to everything and anything that can help you see what the customer sees. Very few people give you direct feedback. “How was the salmon tonight?” “Very good, thank you for asking, I’m just a little full.” (Translation: I’m never eating here again.)
Active listening means taking in all the verbal and non-verbal clues. Wipe a white glove around your bathrooms-yes, the customers are just as grossed out. When you walk in the door does it smell like fresh flowers or new leather or hot cinnamon buns-or whatever your product is-or does it smell like failure?
3) Measure everything from the customer’s perspective. How fast does your website load in Tacoma? On a dial-up line? Ship a few boxes of your product to yourself the next time you’re on vacation. Does that crate of “farm fresh vegetables” arrive at your vacation cottage a sodden mess of decayed matter? You may change the oil in 15 minutes, but how long does the customer wait in line to get to that 15 minutes?
4) “Maximum joy” is your new goal, not order fulfillment. Those teenage mutant automatons you hired to jerk your sodas-do they ever say “Welcome!” or “Thank you!” to your precious customers? If you paid an extra $1.50 an hour could you get some counter help that came without a cell phone attached to their ear or a snarl planted on their lips?
Is your packaging fun? When a customer opens a box of your product are they surprised and pleased, rushing to the phone to call their friends about their prized possession or is it just another return they can’t wait to throw in the mail.
5) Improve constantly. If you haven’t fixed something in the last 48 hours you’ve just fallen 2 days behind your best competitor. Focus on the smallest improvements that you can find. Your packing tape is ugly-fix it.
If your staff treat customers like an interruption to their busy conversations-fix it. Your logo is boring-fix it. The last time anyone other than you had an idea was never-fix it, you’re not that smart and they’re not that dumb-you are making them feel unimportant. There are a thousand ways to turn your mindset inside out and start running your service center the way your customers would like-instead of the way that’s most convenient for you.
Remember, you’re trying to create maximum joy and maximum customer loyalty that leads to maximum returns. If you start from maximum returns and expect that to turn into the greatest customer experience ever you’ll be sadly mistaken, as will your saddened ex-customers.
Written by Steven Grant, a former customer service executive from American Express with over 25 years devoted in Fortune 500 companies analyzing, improving and delivering on enhanced customer experiences.