“It’s not the employer who pays the wages. Employers only handle the money. It is the customer who pays the wages.” Henry Ford summed up the role of the customer for any business owner or employee quite nicely. Without them, you don’t have a business or a job! Now more than ever, we live in the age of the customer. Customers want more, and given the copious amount of information they can access on the web and via social media, they have so much more choice. They also want to be listened to, feel respected and be rewarded for their loyalty.
What can you do to keep your customers coming back for more – and keep you working in a thriving and successful business? Here are some strategies:
Create a Culture with a Customer Focus
It’s impossible to delight your customers without having a culture in your business that supports that attitude. Building the right culture starts with two key foundations: strategy and leadership. That is, a strategy that includes a focus on customers and the right leadership to execute it. More importantly, everyone in the business has a part to play. That’s because everyone has customers! It doesn’t matter what your job title or role is, you have customers, either internal or external to your business. The responsibility doesn’t rest solely on your customer service department. Serving your customers well requires everyone to embrace the concept that the whole business must have the mindset of putting customers first.
Listen to your Customers
You can’t deliver what your customers want until you know what it is. Ask your customers what it is they need and want. Once you know that, you can work backwards to create an experience that provides value and exceeds those expectations. You also need feedback mechanisms in place so your customers can keep you updated on perceptions of your brand, and the quality and delivery of your goods or services. Don’t panic if the news is not always positive. Keep in mind that customers complain because they care. Consider customer complaints or concerns as opportunities to show how good you can be by being solution oriented, fixing the problem and restoring confidence. Keep your customers updated on what you are doing with feedback. A great listening strategy happens on an ongoing basis where the feedback loop between you and your customers is continuous.
Engage Your Customers
Good behaviours and attitudes certainly go a long way in customer interactions. Being professional and courteous as well as listening, displaying empathy and a can-do attitude can make you and your customers feel better. Being authentic with a passion to help can really impress and satisfy. To ensure consistency, make sure your online presence and social media messages reflect these positive manners. Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com, described their approach to customer engagement. “When people call our call centre, our reps don’t have scripts, and they don’t try to upsell. They are just judged on whether they go above and beyond for the customer and really deliver a kind of personal service and emotional connection with our customers.”
Improve Processes and Leverage Technology
There’s no point providing an amazing experience in just one part of your business and a lesser experience in others. If your customers encounter a great online experience but then need to queue when they enter your store, or go through an arduous returns process, then the overall experience falls short. It’s also important to realise that your customers don’t see or understand the silos or departments that exist in your business. It doesn’t matter if the person they speak to is in marketing or finance. Your customers see one brand and expect an experience that reflects that. Invest the time to evaluate, improve and streamline your cross-departmental processes and workflows to ensure a seamless outcome for your customers.
Also, the right mix of technology can certainly make the customer experience easier for you and them. Be mindful that the role of technology in your customer experience is to support your strategy, not to replace it. In addition, there are some things technology can’t do – and replacing the human touch is one of them.
Recognised as an authority in the employee empowerment space, Naomi Simson, founder of RedBalloon, has been quoted as saying, “Without happy people in an organisation it is very hard for a customer to have a happy experience with the business.” There’s proof that engaging your employees and creating happiness not only improves employee retention rates, but also contributes to customer satisfaction and improved customer relationships. Enable your employees to thrive by allowing access to the right tools and training. Promote ownership and accountability and encourage your employees to solve problems themselves. Make your employees feel appreciated by having systems in place to acknowledge and reward ideas and input.
Measure, Adapt and Innovate
It’s important that you measure your overall performance in meeting your customer expectations. Some customer-satisfaction tools and metrics are effective and used widely – for example, the net promoter score (NPS). The NPS takes into account how likely it is that your customers would recommend your business to a friend or colleague. Think outside the box of just using the same tools and metrics. Do your KPIs include customer outcomes? Are you tracking loyalty and conversion rates? What are your customers saying (or not saying) about you on social media? Is there scope for you to conduct interactive focus groups with your customers? However you choose to measure it is up to you. Consider what you need to help shape the operations of your business and achieve future goals. The information you gather can assist with how you innovate to keep up. As the needs and wants of your customers change you can adapt accordingly.
Create an Experience
A heightened customer experience comes from your ability to understand the ongoing and emotional journey your customers embark on with you. Engage and include your customers and create an awesome place to work so that the journey is more rewarding for everyone. You will improve customer retention, increase referrals and have the edge over your competitors, which will ultimately drive profits.
In most industries, competition is increasing, change is happening at a faster pace and competing on price is becoming less of an option. There’s merit in treating customers like they are the biggest asset in your business!