If you can’t provide a memorable customer experience, your startup won’t survive very long these days. According to many observers, we can thank or blame technology for these higher expectations, providing information at the speed of light, leading everyone to expect more. You now need more than loyalty from your customers — they need to be your best advocates.
In case you don’t understand the urgency, just be aware that according to a recent Forrester report, nearly 95 percent of your competitors are saying that providing a good customer experience is their top strategic priority. The bar is being raised, so every entrepreneur needs new initiatives just to stay in the ballgame. Here are some key ideas to get you started:
1. It all starts with the right people on your team.
Make sure you only hire top-notch employees who can relate to the demographics of your customers, and make sure they share your vision and expectations. The days of pushing new and marginal performers into customer service are gone. Every job on your team drives your customer experience.
2. Personally listen and interact with customers regularly.
Some entrepreneurs are so focused on their technology, they assume their customers think the same way. If you and key members of your team haven’t talked to a real customer this month, you have missed some evolving needs and shifting expectations. Lost customers provide the best input.
3. Promote by example a superior customer experience mindset.
A mission of superior customer service is more than words in the board room or words in front of customers. It must be written down, with measurable team objectives, validated by metrics and compared against competition. Most importantly, your actions speak louder than words.
4. Be a visible role model for customer urgency versus emergency.
Many startup founders are great at putting out fires at the expense of urgent customer priorities. Customer-centric leaders display a calm but visible urgency for improving the customer experience during all stages of business evolution and growth. Culture growth follows the leader.
5. Aim your customer experience at their hearts.
Emotional connections are often more valuable than money in building loyalty, differentiation and an exceptional customer experience. Move from customer friendliness to customer charisma. A business with charisma gives the customer something very special, and they want to tell others about it.
6. Make your customer experience fun for all constituents.
A business that is not employee-friendly will not be customer-friendly. All processes need regular updates, so a non-punitive feedback mechanism is important. One approach is to give frequent rewards to your team and special discounts and exclusive promotions to your best customers.
7. Provide coaching and mentoring as well as training.
Formal training for the team is just the beginning, not the end. Customer-centric founders have found that interactive coaching and mentoring by experienced peers is more effective and positive in keeping everyone up to speed on trends, competition, customer demands and technology.
8. Give team members and customers incentives to improve the experience.
Engage team members in creating the experience as well as fixing problems. Encourage and motivate them with the freedom to do their jobs by providing bonuses and giving credit along the way for every contribution. Engage your best customers in the process as well.
Maybe you still remember the days when competitive advantage was all about economies of scale, advertising power and service versus price. Today, with instant low price search, ordering via smart phones and unfiltered online reviews everywhere, the advantage has shifted to companies who can make the whole customer experience positive.
If you wait for poor experience reports before you start, it’s probably too late to recover.