Think you offer a great customer experience? Your customers might not agree. According to Forbes, “89 percent of companies compete primarily on the basis of customer experience—up from just 36 percent in 2010. But while 80 percent of companies believe they deliver ‘super experiences,’ only 8 percent of customers agree.”
That’s a problem. Customers think businesses are overpromising and under-delivering on their experiences. But small businesses have an advantage: It’s easier for them to personalize and improve their customer experience than larger companies. Getting to know customers on a personal level – and then catering experiences – should be standard practice for every small business owner.
Customer experience is the sum of all the interactions a customer has with a business, including every touchpoint from first learning about the company to making a purchase. A positive customer experience gives you several benefits:
On the downside, negative customer experiences can turn away customers, reduce revenues and create negative word-of-mouth. Even worse, a track record of poor customer experience can contribute to a small business going out of business.
The path to a better customer experience is paved by equal doses of discipline, intuition and creativity. Above all else, making your customers happy should be your priority. Ideally, great experiences include the following elements:
A business that doesn’t keep its customers happy won’t be around for long. That means always being respectful, happily answering questions, handling complaints efficiently and providing more service than customers expect.
Your employees are the front line of customer service. Help them understand and practice proper etiquette in person, on the phone and through email. It’s also important to hire strong problem solvers and train employees to make the right decisions for your customers. Make sure all employees know your business inside and out, and empower them to act proactively when a customer has a problem.
In particular, reinforce the notion that good customer service is an essential part of your employees’ job descriptions. After all, satisfying the customer is the key to providing a positive experience.
Operational inefficiencies can really kill your experience. Consider dining at a restaurant that has a nice ambiance, attentive staff, enjoyable music and yet you have to wait an hour to get your food. How many customers will happily repeat that experience?
You need to maximize convenience and efficiency, so that your experience doesn’t suffer.
The point is to never stop exploring new tactics to turn potentially negative customer experiences into positive ones.
Appearance counts when providing a positive customer experience. After all, design sets the visual vibe from the very first second customers step into your shop. That’s why you should design an experience that is comfortable, making customers feel right at home while shopping.
Start by considering the basics. Ensure your location is easy to find, provide good parking options, make your store layout easy to navigate, and provide good lighting and a neat and clean shopping environment.
Once you master the basics, take it up a notch. Emphasize style and comfort in your décor. Take a cue from some of the top coffee shops in the United States, who prioritize customer experience just as much as coffee and tea. Comfort sells, and strong décor and design influence how your customers experience your business.
To really deliver the “wow” factor, you need to consider what makes your business different from all the rest. That could mean anything from providing a lounge area with free coffee for customers to rest while they shop. Or that could mean personally ordering limited time items that you know your customers will absolutely love.
It all depends on your unique business and customers. You have to really know your target customer. Consult sales figures to figure our top selling items. Better yet, get to know you customers on a personal level. Then consider what will make them want to shop at your business even more.
Intangibles can really boost customer experience, turning your business from another store down the road to THE store everyone wants to shop at.
To make sure your customer experience is on the right track, you need feedback. It can be the difference between happy, repeat customers and in-and-out browsers. Yet a significant number of small businesses don’t realize the value of customer reviews.
Start by asking what customers think while they’re in your store. You can ask them at checkout or while they’re browsing. Or you can set up a suggestion box. But don’t stop there.
You need to keep tabs on what customers are saying about your store online. According to the Small Business Payment Spotlight, 65 percent of consumers use online reviews to inform their purchase decision, but only 39 percent of small businesses think review sites give consumers more influence in the market.
Reviews let you know what you’re doing right. Do customers actually care about the complementary coffee station? Is your staff practicing the top-notch service you preach? Read reviews and get a first-hand account of how your customers experience your business.
There’s no doubt that by providing consumers with a more rewarding in-store experience, you’re paving the way for more repeat customers. That leads directly to what merchants want most: Happier customers and more revenue opportunities now and down the road.
Fraud can hurt your overall customer experience, even in-store. Read more about how to prevent fraud and data breaches.