The COVID-19 pandemic has changed countless aspects of how we do business. Regardless, one trend that has been growing in popularity even before the pandemic — offering a stellar customer experience — is set to become a mainstay. Here’s how to shore up your own CX to stay ahead of the competition and secure great results.
As a business owner, your customers are your lifeline. Every decision you make should account for their needs and preferences because ultimately, their choices translate to sales. By placing them at the heart of your overall strategy, you can position yourself to earn something even more coveted than a single sale: their ongoing loyalty.
Customer retention is a near-universal goal among businesses of all kinds, but it’s one many struggle to achieve. An effective customer retention strategy must account for the fact that keeping customers often requires more work than acquiring them (which is why loyalty yields more dividends over time). As more companies begin to grasp this, the battle to deliver superior customer experiences has intensified.
To be sure, the customer experience management market was growing fast prior to the pandemic. In fact, its value is expected to reach just under $17 billion by 2026. For the companies that have made CX a priority focus in 2022 and beyond, that’s good news. As more businesses follow suit, however, the quest to make CX a key differentiator will get more complicated. With that in mind, here are four tips that will help organizations stay ahead of the competition and deliver amazing CX:
- Rely on your team to provide innovative ideas.
Many business leaders searching for ways to optimize CX might immediately assume that the challenge requires help from a third-party market research firm. Although a specialized partner can often provide valuable insight, Vince Dawkins, president and CEO of Enertia Software, a developer of integrated enterprise solutions for the upstream oil and gas industry, cautions against an overreliance on outside expertise. “It might seem logical to hire a firm to study what customers want, but your internal teams that serve these customers already have solutions in mind,” he writes. “They interact with people every day who have strong opinions about your product, service, or the entire industry. Tapping these teams can help expedite innovation by revealing where opportunities exist to solve customer pain points or fill unmet needs.”
Too often, leaders overlook the close connection between employee experience and CX. They might fail to see that employees have their own expectations around the service provided internally — and that these anchor the experiences they provide customers. By aligning employee expectations and organizational goals (and rewarding employees who display superior internal CX), you can foster internal attitudes and behaviors that translate into better experiences for customers.
- Develop a customer communications plan.
In the age of the multichannel consumer, brands often operate under the assumption that they must reach customers everywhere. However, marketing budgets will go a lot further if you instead engage customers strategically via their preferred channels. For many businesses, one of these channels will inevitably be social media, which provides an excellent platform for building ongoing customer relationships.
An active presence on various social channels is not only necessary to stay relevant in the minds of consumers, but also essential to earning their trust. Of course, all of this is key to loyalty as well. Customers crave authenticity in brand interactions, and social media provides an outlet for spontaneous, authentic engagement that few other channels can match. By sharing major milestones with your followers on social media — and just as importantly, being transparent about major challenges or setbacks — you can humanize your brand and inspire a sense of mutual trust that makes customers more comfortable doing business with you.
- Continually seek (and use) feedback.
Like spontaneous engagement, asking customers for input can foster the type of trust that’s essential to ongoing loyalty. It also can help you generate great ideas for moving your business forward. Nerissa Zhang, CEO of The Bright App, recommends creating an ongoing dialog with customers when crowdsourcing ideas. “Listen to customer feedback, use that feedback to improve your business, and then tell your customers that you heard them and directly implemented solutions to give them a better experience,” she says. “Even if you’re listening to customer feedback to make improvements, be sure to explicitly tell your customers about those improvements.”
You can source input from customers in a multitude of ways, and like your other outreach efforts, the tactics you choose should be based on their preferred channels. Email surveys, in-person interviews, and even spontaneous questions following up on social media comments can generate valuable data. If you want to improve your odds of receiving thoughtful, high-quality responses when using survey tools, add an extra incentive (such as a free month’s subscription or a discount on a future purchase). By making the collection of feedback an ongoing initiative, you can gradually gain a better understanding of customer attitudes and preferences, positioning you to offer a CX that more accurately reflects those points.
- Give customers the ability to make an account.
Companies that provide truly outstanding CX use data to understand their customers and anticipate their needs. Amazon is an oft-cited example of a data-driven, customer-centric company, and for good reason. The retail giant stores vast amounts of customer data and uses it to streamline shopping experiences in a way that few competitors have been able to replicate. Your business might not be Amazon, but you can still tap into data to add convenience and efficiency to customer experiences.
After a purchase, whether it’s online or in store, prompt customers to create an account to speed up the checkout process for their next order. Don’t try to collect too much data — all you need is a shipping address and contact information to ensure orders are fulfilled as expected — and make sure that customers know exactly how you’re going to use the information you do collect. You could automatically enroll customers who share their data into loyalty programs, incentivizing both account creation and repeat purchases. At the very least, storing a customer’s order history will make it easier for them to reorder favorites, get help promptly, and track orders until they are received. You might find that some customers prefer not to make an account, but they won’t penalize you for asking.
In the past few years, customers have begun to rethink where they put their trust. For entrepreneurs, this presents an opportunity to buckle down on what kind of experience they provide customers. Doing so can mean the difference between success and failure in a competitive market.
Written by Rhett Power.
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