As consultative sales courses always emphasize, it's not about what your product or service does, it's all about what your product or service can do for me. It's the customer's perception of you, in other words, their experience of you, that really counts. You are the salesperson. You are also the email, blog post, tweet, and anything else that represents your business.
Here are 10 tips to help you and your business improve the customer experience.
Tip #1: Walk A Mile In Your Customers' Shoes
The customer experience needs to become your experience. Put yourself in every step from first impressions to sales transaction. Test everything as if you are the customer. What happens after you paid your money? Or what happens if you really don't like something?
It's really the Golden Rule of Customer Experience: Treat your customers even better than you would like to be treated as a customer.
Tip #2: Keep Repeating Tip Number One
It's impossible to overstate the importance of getting out from behind the counter, closed door, top floor, manufacturing plant, kitchen stove -- or wherever your daily work keeps you -- and experience your product or service through the customer's eyes. Are you getting lost in a phone tree to fix a problem? Keep notes.
Turning the tables and experiencing what the customer experiences offers valuable insight. Improve, change, fix, or eliminate those aspects you did not like or that did not meet your company standards. How can you improve your service?
Tip #3: Do What It Takes to Get First-Hand Experience
It may not be easy to experience your company as a customer. If you are well-known and easily recognized in your company, you might need to consider other options beyond donning a fake mustache or wig.
“Secret shoppers” or “hidden eaters” are good proxies. If this proves impossible, another option is to ask close confidants to experience the sales cycle. Be sure you find someone who will do you the favor of offering detailed, and perhaps harsh, assessments.
Tip #4: Respond Personally to Online Critique
Read the comments people post about your business and answer them personally. This includes the good, the bad, and the awful. Listen to what your customers are saying. It is easy to become defensive, but real value can be derived from feedback.
If the feedback is bad, find out why. Customers who share bad experiences are doing you a favor. You need to decide if it is worth changing that part of the experience, and resist judging the messenger.
Tip #5: Focus Groups Still Work Wonderfully
Can you handle the truth about your product or service? Talk to your customers. Online surveys are fine, but nothing replaces real, personal feedback. Try to solicit all your customers for feedback, not a carefully selected list of your best supporters. Just don't forget that it's all about listening to your customers, and not about you.
Tip #6: Test Your 24/7 Salesman -- Your Website
Are you giving your customers a great online experience? Design, usability and content matter. For example, does your website work across all the browsers -- not just the one you use? Can it be viewed easily on a smart phone or tablet? Have you maximized the experience for all devices and screen resolutions? Have you carefully inventoried your content to make sure it's useful for customers, prospects, and other audiences?
Tip #7: Experience All Customer Pathways and Touchpoints
Have you tested the customer's experience from start to finish on all products or services? Have you taken the same steps required to purchase online as you have to purchase offline? It is valuable to experience multiple customer pathways to ensure you have tested everything necessary to offer a memorable and outstanding customer experience (the only one worth having).
Tip #8: Study Other Businesses Carefully
"Smart people learn from their own mistakes, wise people learn from others' mistakes." It's an old saw for a reason. Keep close tabs on industry leaders and look for inspiration elsewhere to improve customer experiences. Try tip #1 above, but at other businesses, including your close competitors. What are they doing better or worse than you? What can you learn from these businesses that interact with the same type of customers?
Tip #9: Rinse and Repeat With the Entire Fleet
Everyone who works for you and represents your business should also walk a mile in the customers' shoes to taste the customer experience from the flip side. This can be a fun exercise, but also extremely valuable, as others will observe parts of the process you've overlooked that can be improved. Be willing to take insight and suggestions from anyone on the team as long as it supports the overall goal of stellar service.
Tip #10: Think: Are You a Happy Customer?
You'll know you have really taken on the mission to understand your operation from the customer's perspective when you start to get creative and come up with your own ideas to improve the customer experience. Then it's your turn to write up the next case study on how you improved your customer's experience, and the bottom line.
David Grebow holds an MBA from Harvard, and is a freelance small business journalist for Vistaprint, a leader in custom websites, business cards, and other marketing products and services to millions of businesses all across the globe. David's work has been featured in The Economist and Harvard Business Review.