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We always say that bustling businesses are those with a superior customer service. But here we’re taking that advice to the next level – far beyond “Hello! How can I help you” and “Thank you, have a nice day!”
In this step, we’ll help you make your business irresistible to current and future customers by creating a “customer experience.” Of course, great service is part of that “experience,” but there are things you can do to connect even more with your lifeblood – your beloved customers.
Done right, they’ll be happier, buy more, come back more and talk you up to their friends.
HERE ARE FIVE WAYS TO ENHANCE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE:
- Formalize a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Strategy
- Create a Culture (see Step 8 for more details)
- Provide Incentives for Return/Repeat Business
- Offer Bonuses to Reward Loyalty
- Cultivate Passionate, Engaged Employees
Formalize a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Strategy
Coddle them, cater to them, treat them like they’re the most important asset of your business, and your customers will grow your business for you.
Rather then being informal and ad hoc about customers, it’s very important to create a well-thought-out system for managing the relationships you have – or want to have – with them. In business circles, this is called “customer relationship management” or “CRM.”
First, before you try to formalize a CRM plan, find the weak links in your service chain. To do this, you may want to revisit our advice on using surveys in Step 1 of 10 Steps to Grow Your Business. Surveys, whether online or in person, are a great way to collect feedback from your current customers. Also consider selecting a subset of survey respondents or simply a handful of loyal customers and invite them to act as advisors to your business.
Why would people do either? Well, it may be because they have an opinion they’d like to share, and this is a great way to be heard. Or, it may be that they’d find it gratifying and stimulating to help you succeed. There could be other reasons, but there’s nothing like letting your customers lead you to improved offerings.
If your primary contact with customers is by phone, an unimposing way to collect information about their experience is to ask for feedback right at the time of the transaction or whatever business activity you’re conducting. Ask what you could have done better or what other offerings would interest them.
There are technology solutions designed to help you note, classify, track, respond, call back and bill customers, among other functions: CRM software. The beauty of these systems, made by a number of leading vendors, is that you become supremely organized, prioritized and productive when your customer interactions are driven by software. Not to say you’re sloppy or disorganized, but if you’re going to grow, you have to streamline and upgrade your methods of handling cherished customers.
CRM software packages can widely range in price depending on complexity and functionality, but you can be sure there are affordable solutions for even the smallest businesses.
Create a Culture
Creating a culture for your company is about cultivating passion in your team and your customer base. Your culture clarifies your identity, your values, your beliefs and even the products or services you offer and how you price them.
In Step 8, we cover in detail how a culture affects both your customers’ and team members’ experiences, and how that can lead to superior performance for your business.
Incentives for Return/Repeat Business
There are so many options for customers these days that you have to keep dangling a carrot in front of them. What’s your carrot? What creates urgency?
Here’s our list of “stunts” to consider:
- Discounts: Let customers know there’s a price reduction that makes it worth their while to come back.
- Free offers: Notify customers that giveaways or additional products are being offered with a specified amount of purchases.
- Limited-time offers: There’s nothing like racing against the clock to create a gestalt of urgency.
- Contests: Competition and gambling are natural “buttons” for people, and if you press them, you can tempt return business.
- Gift cards: These require you to give away product, but statistics show that people often buy other products at the same time. So all in all, you’re making money.
Once you get customers back and buying, do whatever you can to reward them for their loyalty (and create more of it!).
The classic is a frequent-flyer program, but there are others on a smaller scale, like a punch card at the ice cream shop that gives customers their 10th cone for free.
Gifts for being loyal
Consider simple and thoughtful benefits like a coupon for a treatment at the local spa. You get it at rock-bottom prices, but your customers get the same value as full retail, which they’d have to pay if they were to go on their own.
Donate a portion of proceeds to charity
Let customers know their loyalty has meaning by donating partial proceeds from their purchases to an important non-profit.
Write simple “thank you” notes
Using “old school” methods goes a long way toward building a bond in this techie age – send a handwritten note by snail mail.
Make it personal
After the purchase, direct contact with the customer can separate you from the competition.
Cultivate Passionate Employees
As you’ll learn in Step 8, “Create a Culture,” having happy employees goes miles in creating a positive customer experience.
Hire for “happy” first, then teach the skills
We learned this from one of the biggest small businesses in the world, Southwest Airlines. They’ve stayed “small” in perception by focusing on hiring the kindest and most charismatic personnel, then training them in the necessary skill sets. The result? A happy workforce, great pride and a contagious spirit that customers just love.
Add fun to the work environment
We have a good habit of loudly – some would say, obnoxiously – attaching a sound effect to e-mails we send to people inside our company who’ve done a great job. It’s that of a lightning bolt and rolling thunder. When someone gets unexpectedly “struck by lightning” in the StartupNation offices, others hear it and want to get their own strike for fast and outstanding work. This informal and creative recognition adds fun to the office environment.
If sound effects aren’t your cup of tea, how about getting folks together for a drink after work, or a no-pressure contest among employees, or periodic celebrations of specific individual and company achievements. All are ways to add fun and create passionate, engaged employees while promoting that contagious energy customers just love.
Add employee incentives that encourage happier customers
Give specific rewards, financial and otherwise, for customer experience excellence.
Shift power to the frontlines
This is all about encouraging the people closest to your customers to innovate and respond to customer needs and opportunities, instead of simply being worker-bees taking orders and marching in tune.