Before a customer makes even one purchase from you, their customer experience has already started. The customer experience is the culmination of every moment a customer spends with your business until they are no longer your customer. A good customer experience creates an emotional bond between your business and that customer, keeping them coming back again and again. Cultivating a stellar customer experience takes time and care but does not have to break the bank. Many strategies that strengthen the customer experience are cost-free and those with a price tag have the potential to produce great ROI through satisfied return customers and increasing the life-time value of a customer.
Don’t Confuse Customer Experience with Customer Service
All of the most basic interactions your business and staff have with a customer account for customer service. Customer service is the most baseline expectation for customer interaction that businesses must meet to avoid bad online reviews and word of mouth. Answering the phone, making eye contact, saying ‘thank you,’ and listening to customer requests are all examples of customer service; all good things, but in no way memorable. Customer experience, on the other hand, accounts for all of the unique, personal touches your business can make to emotionally connect with your client base. If done correctly, your customer experience should both raise your reviews from average to great as well as increase the number of sales you make through word of mouth and advocacy marketing.
The customer experience is what people remember about your business. Think about the small businesses that have made an impression on you. All of those elements that may have impressed you or made you laugh are a part of your own customer experience; it should be your business’s goal to get those same emotions from your customers.
Building a Brand
The first step to strengthening your customer experience is making sure you have a strong brand. While your small business may not be able to match the variety of Amazon or the low prices of Wal-Mart, small businesses have every opportunity to make their own brand, or business personality, compelling, targeted, and identifiable. Building a compelling brand for your business often begins with keeping all aspects of your brand like colors, tone, font consistent. If you don’t know what aspects work best for your business, do some light research to find out the median age and interests of your customers. Having a business with a distinct personality is the first step to making customers feel like their interactions with your company feel special.
Focusing your businesses’ brand to be more appealing to your customers is the best way to make those customers feel even better about visiting your business. Keep in mind these key pieces of a business’s brand when assessing your own.
Brand History and Story: Customers will feel even more connected to your business if they know how you started out. Small businesses with grassroots or individual histories should actively tell those stories on their website and social media pages. Businesses with start-up stories will likely resonate even more with customers, strengthening their customer experience.
Brand Personality: Establishing a brand personality means giving traits to your business that customers can then associate with. The first step to finding or refining your brand personality is choosing some adjectives that you think define your business. Get your staff into the conversation as well and try to get a list of words like “laidback, friendly, sophisticated, professional,” or anything that fits your business. A brand personality is essential for cultivating the customer experience, as customers more easily establish an emotional bond with a business that has perceived human traits.
Brand Values: Being upfront about what your business stands for is increasingly important to the customer experience. Bind your brand to memorable and compelling values like diversity, accessibility, or whatever values you think apply to your business. Then, draft a concise mission statement for your business that encompasses those values. Make sure your customers can easily access your mission statement from your website, social media and especially in your actual place of business.
Handwriting Goes a Long Way
This tip may seem basic, but handwriting is often overlooked for the sake of digital convenience. How often does your staff use pen and paper when communicating with customers? Think back to any time you’ve received a thank you card with genuine handwriting and how that made you feel. Clever use of handwritten notes reminds customers that your business is run by people and not robots and algorithms. Even further, use writing by hand as an opportunity to further your brand personality. Here are a few places your staff can implement handwriting to go the distance and make a personal connection with your customers.
Receipts: When appropriate, encourage staff to add a personal touch to customer receipts. Even a smiley-face or “thanks” is a quick way into a customer’s memory.
Special Notices: Even the most mundane notices like restroom closures or your business’ mask guidelines are ripe for handwriting as well as brand personality. Instead of simply writing “restroom closed,” consider your brand personality and make a sign another way to display your business’s unique traits.
Marketing Materials: Marketing doesn’t have to mean expensive postal and email campaigns. Marketing to cultivate the customer experience can be as simple as making changes inside and out of your store. If your storefront is along a street or busy walkway, consider getting a chalk board and writing something clever about your business beyond your hours. Once again, if your business is on a walkway, consider getting a water bowl for pets during the warmer months. Write a witty, cute note above the bowl inviting pets to take a drink. While the pet partakes, the owner is then much more likely to take a second look at your store.
Get Your Staff Involved
Direct interactions with staff are the basis of making customer experiences memorable. If you run a business with outward facing staff, be certain that your training encourages staff to interact with customers when appropriate. If you have in-house customer service, be certain they are trained to be both effective and infectiously friendly. For businesses who sell products from a brick-and-mortar location, round up your staff and either cultivate a ‘Staffs’ Picks’ collection of products or encourage your staff to select their favorite products and write up endorsements; double points if those endorsements are hand-written!
When getting your staff involved, be sure they are just as aware of your company’s brand and personality as you are. When your business’s brand is strong enough, you can even use your brand to attract staff that already represent your preferred tone and outward appearance.
Dynamic and meaningful staff interactions account for the most important piece of a customer experience. If customers are meant to resonate with your business’s brand and perceived traits, those traits ought to come through strongest via your employees who embody those same traits.
Follow-up After Visits
Following-up with your clients is one of the most certain ways to both improve their customer experience as well as increase the chances they will return to your business. There are several ways a business can follow-up with clients eg: email, SMS, letters, social media; it is essential your business finds out which medium resonates most with your customer base.
Follow-ups with clients absolutely must be timely. Be certain that any kind of follow up message is sent either the same day the customer interacted with your store, or as soon as possible. By sending a follow-up message close to the client’s visit, it’s clear to the customer that they are a priority to you, the business.
In order for your follow-up messages to avoid a quick send to the digital trash bin, think of creative ways to add value to your correspondence. Some examples are to give avenues for direct feedback and places for customers to give suggestions. If a customer fills out a feedback or suggestion form, that is another great place for a personalized follow-up! Be receptive and respectful if customers have meaningful complaints or thought-out criticism in their responses, as addressing those complaints thoughtfully can massively rebound a poor customer experience.
Social Media, Blogs, and Keeping Customers Engaged
Customers who are already wowed by your company and want to keep up with your brand even further will often use social media and your company website to keep in touch with your business until their next visit. Make sure that your web presence is sharp and up to date with content that reflects your established brand. Use your social media channels to advertise events in your store or to highlight new products in fun and charming ways. Your goal with social media outreach is to stay in the conversation; whatever that conversation is will be up to your target audience and existing customers.
The most sure-fire way to positively influence the customer experience on social media is to actively engage with customers. When people comment on your posts or “@” your business, it is imperative that your official account responds and engages with those posts in a timely manner. Keep a close eye on posts from people who tag your business after visiting; just a simple ‘thanks for stopping by’ can make a huge impact on that customer’s experience.
A great way to make social media part of the customer experience is responding to comments or posts that mention your business. Even engaging customers on social media is part of the customer experience. Get creative! If you have some regular customers who are big fans of your business, maybe feature them on your social media page along with a quote from that customer. Make sure to always get clear consent from customers before taking their picture or uploading pictures of them to the Internet.
An new strategy for keeping social media costs low is to work with interns. Large companies searching for social media managers often ask that applicants have several years’ experience to even apply. By making your company an entry-level opportunity, you can both grow your brand and business personality while giving young professionals the experience they need to pursue social media management as a career.
Final Considerations on Brand and Customer Experience
The basis of a memorable customer experience is one that breaks the mold of mundane daily tasks. Your aim should be to genuinely surprise customers with your business’s humanity and attention to detail. Good staff are an undeniable necessity when building a memorable customer experience; be certain they are as aware of this as you are. Find ways to both engage your customers as well as your outward-facing staff and those stellar experiences emblematic of small businesses will often happen naturally.