‘The customer is always right’ is one of the oldest clichés out there, though it’s fair to say that in some industries and companies, this has not always been the case. Yet in this age of the internet, social media, and word-of-mouth recommendation, it is clearly more important than ever to put the customer experience at the forefront of your business strategy.
Bad experiences can be shared (and re-shared) in moments via sites such as Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, while platforms such as Tripadvisor and Google allow people to review the service of almost any business.
Good or bad – directly at the point where potential new customers may be searching for a suggestion or advice on a product.
The good news is that this process works well for positive reviews and success stories as well, and the power of word-of-mouth recommendation has been well documented for many years.
For this reason, taking a few steps towards improving your customers’ experience with your brand – whether that’s in-store, online or via the telephone – can pay huge dividends once those successful interactions are shared and your reputation as a customer-focused enterprise established.
Start From The Beginning
The journey you take with your customers should be focused on their needs from the very first encounter.
Ask questions in the form of online or in-store questionnaires, surveys or even informal conversations during customer interactions; and put this information to use as soon as possible. Amongst other things, you should be asking:
- What did you do well as a business?
- What did they enjoy about the experience?
- Did you meet their expectations? If not, why not?
- How can you improve in the future?
Knowing what you’re doing well is important so you can continue in that direction and reinforce this message with your staff. But perhaps understanding what you could improve on and how you can make the customer experience easier is of even greater importance.
Turn A Negative Into A Positive
Reviewing customer feedback is not only something that you should do at the beginning but actually to continue and refine for the duration of a business-customer relationship. If you make changes to your website, store, or even something such as your branding, ensure you ask both new and returning customers their opinion of the changes.
Put this information to use as soon as possible to enhance their customer experience. Has your new website layout made it more difficult for your customers to find what they’re looking for? If so, then that certainly requires attention.
Use these moments as opportunities to reach out – perhaps run a free draw or competition in exchange for their opinion – and allow the customer to feel that they’re helping your company grow. Brand loyalty is extremely powerful and has many long term benefits.
Train Your Staff
Equally as important as your belief in a customer-centric business model is the attitude and ethics of your staff. If your company is to grow you will undoubtedly need to increase your recruitment to extend the size of your team and these will be the very people who interact directly with your public.
These are the people who will communicate your brand’s message to the customer base so they also need to believe that customer service is of the utmost importance. Of course, you can carry out regular staff training to promote this ideal, though for it to really work your staff must want to invest themselves in the company – feel a part of a growing team.
In the short term, this can be achieved through recognizing and rewarding good work; incentives such as rewards, bonuses, staff-trips, and an ‘employee of the month’ award are all useful schemes.
Longer-term staff should feel that they’re valued, but also be able to see a clearly defined career path and the opportunity for self-development. Regular courses and training to develop job-specific skills, as well as industry qualifications deliver this and lead to improved and sustained intrinsic motivation, and job satisfaction.
Just as you regularly gather feedback from your customers, you should also obtain regular staff feedback to find out what they’re happy with and what changes they feel could improve the business.
Of course, not every request or suggestion needs to be acted upon but giving your staff a voice leads to a sense of empowerment and shared goals. Don’t forget that the view from the ‘shop floor’ or of those people who deal with customers directly via the telephone or email communication can be very different to yours as a manager or CEO, and this change of perspective can be invaluable to ensure that you are in fact giving your customers what they want.
Acting Upon The Feedback… And Starting Small
When presented with a steady stream of both customer and staff feedback it can feel overwhelming and indeed difficult to know where to start in your bid for a convincing and effective customer-centric strategy.
My advice here is simple – collate the information, identify a few key areas for improvement, and then select ONE.
Remember your customer base will have a range of needs, and these cannot all be met at once. Too many concurrent changes can lead to a chaotic reaction and even have the perceived opposite effect to what is desired.
If, for example, your staff haven’t had chance to assimilate the training they’ve undergone with a new telephone system and cannot deal with customer queries effectively, this will not appear as though you’re putting the customers’ needs at the top of your list of priorities!
What To Change?
Put simply, the majority of customers value simplicity in life and this certainly extends to the experience of shopping; from carrying out initial research, browsing potential options, comparing prices through to carrying out the purchase.
Whether your brand works online, in-store or both, your primary aim should be to exceed your customers’ expectations and build trust in your brand. How you do this will be specific to your industry or even your business, but a great place to start is to reduce as many obstacles as possible from their experience, making the entire transaction as smooth as possible.
Give them a positive episode to share online and talk about with their friends. The after-sales experience is equally as important. As already discussed, use this opportunity to ask questions about their opinion of the transaction and gather as many details as possible surrounding their tastes and things that can inform and improve subsequent interactions with your company.
As you can see, this becomes a positive cycle as you develop a relationship with your customers over time, hopefully leading to a lifetime of brand loyalty.
Guest Contribution by Educator Martha Jameson, former web designer, and a manager before she became a writer with PhDKingdom.com. Martha’s main focus is to share her knowledge, experience, and motivation with her readers at blogs.
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