Making customer experience your point of difference

A few months ago, I moved house.

Now, I’ve moved house enough times to know that just because you can do something yourself, it doesn’t mean you should. As such, this time I decided to hire a cleaning company to clean the house before we handed the keys back to the real estate agent, and a moving company to help us move all of our large items.

While the moving company were an absolute delight to deal with, the cleaning company were a complete nightmare. They turned up over an hour late, charged more than I was originally quoted, and did a sub-par job. After a number of irate emails and phone calls, I ended up getting some of my money back. The whole experience left a very bad taste in my mouth.

So I did what tens of thousands of people do every minute.

I posted a review of the business online.

The rise in popularity of online review sites like Yelp means your customers can share their experiences with thousands of people with just a few clicks. If they’ve had a positive experience with your business, that’s great news – a one-star increase on Yelp can increase your revenue by between 5 and 9 %.

On the flipside, a single negative review can cost you 30 customers.

Given the enormous influence online reviews can have on your business, it’s in the interest of all businesses – especially those in retail or hospitality – to ensure they’re consistently providing positive customer experiences.

Contrary to what you might think, a great customer experience doesn’t need to involve expensive visual merchandising setups, high-tech touchpoints or giveaways. Excellent customer service is the most effective weapon you have in your arsenal, and it doesn’t need to cost you a fortune.

If you think the customer service you and your employees are providing could use some improvement, take a look at these 3 simple ways to boost the customer experience in your business:

The 15/60 Rule

The next time you walk into a retail store, time yourself. See how far you can get into the store within 60 seconds. While 60 seconds doesn’t sound like a particularly long time, in many instances it can be enough time for a customer to walk in, look around, make a decision and walk back out again.

Given that foot traffic is declining in bricks-and-mortar retail (holiday foot traffic in the US dropped by half between 2010 and 2013), letting customers walk out the door is something no retailer can afford to do.

A good rule of thumb is the 15/60 Rule.

The 15/60 Rule is simple – acknowledge your customers within 15 seconds of them entering your store, and approach them within 60 seconds.

It’s not a hard-and-fast rule, and there will of course be times when you won’t be able to get to everyone, especially if it’s busy. However, given that research indicates that 70% of buying experiences are based on how the customer feels they’ve been treated, if you and your team make a concerted effort to reach out to majority of customers that enter your store in a timely fashion, you should start to see some positive results.

Communicate, communicate, communicate

I’ve already admitted that I’m not adverse to leaving the occasional negative online review, but let me be perfectly clear – this is only something I do in the direst of circumstances. Having worked in the service industry myself for a number of years, I understand that sometimes things happen that you can’t control.

A waitress drops a plate before it it reaches a table. A supplier is late with a shipment, delaying a customer’s order. Food poisoning hits half your team at once, leaving you short-handed and unable to help all of your customers.

These situations – where you’re unable to deliver exactly what your customers are expecting – are the ones that every person in the service industry dreads. While it’s never pleasant, there are steps you can take to ensure that the process is as positive as possible for your customer.

You can do that by following a very simple process:

Communicate the issue with the customer
Apologise for the inconvenience
Manage expectations as to how quickly the issue will be fixed
Resolve the issue

The more informed your customers are, the more understanding they’ll be – which means they’ll be less likely to label the experience as a negative one. And that’s good news for your business – 58% of people will never use a company again after single negative experience.

Know your product

Online reviews mean people are doing far more of their own research before making a purchase. By the time a customer sets foot into your store, they’re likely armed with a wealth of knowledge about the item they’re looking to purchase.

No matter how much a customer knows about your products, you and your employees should always know more.

The best way to achieve this is to ensure your employees are receiving regular, consistent product knowledge training. There are a number of ways you can approach this, depending on the nature of your business. Lush Cosmetics, for example, sends employees to fun, interactive product training days, as well as getting managers to train employees on the floor. Fashion retailers often run quarterly product training sessions, to coincide with new season product launches. Apple prides itself on its ‘Geniuses’ continuously building on their product knowledge.

When you equip your team with superior product knowledge, you’re empowering them to provide exemplary customer service. Knowing the ins and outs of all products you offer means your employees will be able to answer questions, resolve issues and offer advice quickly and professionally.

Customers are likely to trust a brand that has well-trained, knowledgeable employees, and trust is an integral part of retaining customers.

Great customer service doesn’t have to cost the earth, but poor customer service can be an expensive habit – the White House Office of Consumer Affairs estimates that it can be 6 – 7 times more expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to keep a current one. While it can be all too easy to get caught up in the myriad other aspects that make for a successful business, customer service is the foundation of your success. Make sure you give it the time and respect it deserves.

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