Customer experience is not all about throwing large budgets at cutting edge customer initiatives, quite the opposite in fact. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are uniquely placed to deliver exceptional customer experiences, creating sustainable competitive advantage and improved profitability.
Many SMEs are entrenched in the thought that their success resides in having the most superior product or service. Whilst the quality of product or service offered is indeed important, it is not entirely the key to success; moreover the real key to success is not product-based at all. Sustainable business success is reliant on the provision of valuable, memorable, and differentiated customer experiences, the type that help customers form an emotional bond with your company.
SME’s size and structure, their ability to be nimble and swift to respond to change, is a strategic asset. Smaller companies can often find themselves at an advantage over their larger corporate counterparts when it comes to attaining customer experience excellence.
Here we discuss 5 key areas on which SMEs can focus in order to continually enhance the experiences they are delivering to their customers:
Take a walk in your customers’ shoes
Put your customer hat on and ask yourself: “What kind of customer experience would I want?” Customer experience is about so much more than simply ‘getting it right’ and avoiding negative service feedback; it’s about creating personalised, memorable, and valuable experiences from the customer’s perspective. Excellent experiences leaves customers wanting to engage with you more often and makes them feel compelled to recommend your company, either prompted or unprompted.
Customer Journey Mapping (CJM) can provide a highly detailed and structured way of illustrating the interactions you have with your customers, done properly it can highlight opportunities to fine tune processes, work more efficiently, and importantly introduce ways of ‘wowing’ your customers at various points during their journey and strengthening the bond they have with you.
Don’t be afraid to ask how you’re doing
Customers are your best source of information to help you determine what’s working and what’s not working in your product and service provision. Direct customer feedback is invaluable. Surveys, focus groups, and interviews conducted by impartial, third party companies, provide an excellent means of gathering vital customer feedback. Similarly a lot of data can be gleamed from the internet and social media; there are a plethora of means by which customers can share their views, good and bad.
A good social media strategy and regular customer research can help ensure you remain in tune with your customers’ (and prospects’) needs and expectations, and keep abreast of market changes and how you need to adapt to them.
Finally, never neglect a negative review or comment, they provide excellent (often public) opportunities to address, salvage, and potentially rebuild what can be a highly valuable customer relationship.
Strive for trusted advisor and educator status
Avoid the desire to simply “supply”. Listen to your customers, consult them, and make sure you understand their needs. Do not be afraid to offer expert advice, even if that advice results in them buying a product or service outside of your offering. That type of professionalism builds trust; the customer will remember how you treated them and acted with their best interests at heart. These experiences are what drives customer loyalty and advocacy.
Providing expert and impartial advice does have the potential to result in an initial lost sale, but the experience is lodged in the customer’s memory. The opportunity will arise for a repeat purchase, and your company will be first in their thoughts.
Face and address the “difficult” aspects of your business
Many small business owners have a tendency to focus on their products or services, after all that’s what they do best, and there is no “end to end” thinking involved. However, the difficult, and sometimes the weakest parts of your operation are often the ones that when additional focus is applied, have the potential to impact the customer experience the most.
Take an objective look at your business and try to spot those problematic areas, the ones you know just aren’t right, but that you’d typically prefer to avoid. Invoicing, payments, and delivery/returns for example, are often areas where small businesses cite they can struggle in terms of customer experience. Consider consulting your customers and finding out what small adjustments you can make in the process that can enhance their experience. Perhaps look to schedule follow ups to see how the experience was; this is particularly relevant in 100% online transactions where customers may not even have had the opportunity to engage with you in person.
Customers will appreciate the extra effort and added attention, making them more likely to return for a repeat purchase.
Efficiency is good but don’t overdo it
A small business owner’s requirement to ‘do more with less’ can result in a tendency to rush, get the job done, and move on. However this is often contrary to making customers feel special and valued. Consider taking a little extra time to ensure that customers are 100% satisfied; don’t be afraid to ask if there was anything you could have done differently to improve their experience.
This kind of attention fosters loyalty and promotes word of mouth referrals. Conversely, a feeling of being rushed or treated like you are ‘just a number’ leaves people talking about their negative experience, and it’s unlikely they’ll return.
As a small business owner, it is essential that you use your size to your advantage and seize every opportunity you have to take control of your customer experience. A superior customer experience can rival even the greatest of your competitor’s product advancements.