October 05, 2016 12:00 PM
Improving customer experience should be the No. 1 priority of small business owners. (Photo: flower travelin' man/Shutterstock)
Today, keeping customers happy may be the best way to boost revenue.
How do you increase revenue growth? In a survey, the No. 1 strategy small business owners planned to use in 2016 was improving customer experience and retention.
“Customer experience” encompasses every interaction customers have with your business, from browsing your website to shopping or dining on premises to posting comments — and receiving responses — on social media.
Increasingly, providing a superior customer experience is critical to poaching market share from the competition. Here are five ways to do it.
Create a mantra
“If you’re consistently above average, it becomes predictable. Predictability leads to trust and confidence, which leads to repeat business.”- Shep Hyken (Photo: Shep Hyken)
Owners should create a one-sentence vision of customer service expectations for their business, advised Shep Hyken, a customer service expert, professional speaker and author. For example, he loves The Ritz-Carlton’s nine-word motto of “We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.”
Just putting the mantra on a break room poster isn’t enough, of course. Owners and staff must act on it.
“If a customer calls with a complaint and wants his money back, are you going to argue with him? Or are you going to replace the product and go a little beyond what’s expected?” said Hyken. “If you’re consistently above average, it becomes predictable. Predictability leads to trust and confidence, which leads to repeat business.”
Train your staff well
Owners assume, often mistakenly, that their employees understand the importance of customers, said Randi Busse, president of Workforce Development Group Inc., a coaching and training organization that specializes in improving the customer experience, increasing customer retention and maximizing revenue. But pulling off a customer-forward approach requires training your staff on both its importance and execution.
“Just because someone has X number of years in an industry or even in a customer service position doesn’t mean they know how customers should be treated,” she said.
“Providing customer service training is just as important as training an employee on how to use the computer system and all about the products and services the company offers. Empowered employees make decisions that are in the best interest of the company and the customer.”
Train them yourself or pay to have them trained. Above all, communicate to employees exactly what’s expected.
Provide ongoing feedback
“Businesses need to realize they’re dealing with another human being who just wants to be made to feel important and valued. Make it personal, make it real, make it genuine.” -Randi Busse (Photo: Randi Busse)
Training shouldn’t stop after an employee is hired, said Stephen Sheinbaum, founder of Bizfi, an online marketplace for business financing based in New York City.
“Owners need to prioritize time in their work week for a staff-wide reflection on what was done right and what could be done better the next time,” he said. “When you hear or see employees having the right kind of interaction with your customers, be sure to let them know you’re proud of their effort.”
Sheinbaum said he stresses “empowered listening.” It happens when employees (and owners) pay attention to what a customer says and respond with a tailored solution.
Busse said owners should consider their business model “human-to-human” rather than B2C. “Businesses need to realize they’re dealing with another human being who just wants to be made to feel important and valued. Make it personal, make it real, make it genuine.”
Create a customer journey map
A customer journey map is a helpful tool for identifying customer experience issues and opportunities. It’s a diagram of the steps and emotions a customer goes through when engaging with a business, said Lisa Dance, a customer experience and user experience designer with ServiceEase in Richmond, Virginia.
“Using observation, customer interviews and sales data, document what actually happens when a customer makes a purchase or gets a service. This allows you to identify and resolve pain points at those critical moments where customers become dissatisfied.”
The Harvard Business Review has more on customer journey maps.
Consider CRM software
Using customer response management (CRM) software can improve customer experience by managing customer communication with the business, says Stephen Sheinbaum, founder of Bizfi. (Photo: Stephen Sheinbaum)
To further help improve the customer experience, Sheinbaum recommends using customer response management (CRM) software. This software can help a small business organize contacts, establish the sales funnel, track sales goals and performance and manage customer communication.
“CRM systems were first developed for big businesses with large sales teams, but now these systems are within reach of small businesses, and they can be accessible to you and your employees from within your office or on the road,” said Sheinbaum. “In addition, many CRM systems have ties to email messaging systems and electronic invoicing so a small business can lift its operations on many fronts all at once.”
Hyken noted CRM software can improve the customer experience and help a business run more smoothly by collecting relevant details on its customers, from past purchases to complaints, and putting that info into the hands of employees for immediate action. “They can have a good positive relationship because of it, and they don’t need a manager to step in to help.”