As entrepreneurs, my peers and I love to compare notes on how we can get better at business. Buzzwords like “efficiency,” “growth hacking,” “scale,” and “strategy” all come to mind.
But today I want to share some tips about one topic that isn’t discussed nearly as often as those. You’d think since we never talk about it, it must not be very important, but that’s not the case. This is perhaps the most important thing in your business. What is it? Customer experience.
There is a big difference between “customer experience” to “customer service.” Customer service is reactive: it’s the section of a website or a store where you go when something goes wrong. In “customer service,” the business makes it right. But “customer experience” is proactive. It consists of all the things you do to make sure that being your customer is an experience that customers don’t endure: they enjoy.
There is nothing more important in your business than having happy current and past clients. Strip away all the processes and products and business models from your business, and all you have left is your integrity and your principles. These are the most important parts of your business, and customer experience is where those things are the most evident.
Integrity and principles aren’t something you can “hack” or whip up quickly. They are often the least scalable and least efficient part of your business. They must be earned over time.
If your business is a restaurant, it doesn’t matter how delicious your food is, how trendy your decor is, or how great your advertising is. If you are not treating your customers with the utmost respect, word will get around and you’ll start to notice that your restaurant is less and less full every weekend.
If you are a service provider, it doesn’t matter how necessary or brilliant your services are, or even how genius you or your team are at performing them. All it comes down to is how easy or hard, delightful, or horrific it is to work with you.
Here’s an example. One of the services my business provides for our clients is a monthly report. We put a lot of care into these because they are how we relay to the client the work that we have done all month and how it’s valuable to them. Doing the work is what they pay for, sure. But the report is all about giving them a good customer experience.
Is that customer service? No. If we provided a report after the client contacted us and asked what we’d been up to all month, that would be customer service. It’s all about the customer experience: what it’s like to be a customer of our business. The experience I strive for is that of sitting down at a 5-start restaurant and being served a world-class meal without even having to ask for anything.
Below I’ve put together 4 tips for better customer experience that I’ve used to make sure my clients are as happy as possible. Of course all businesses have room for improvement. But the ones who have a good customer experience are not doing it by accident.
4 Tips for Offering a Better Customer Experience
1. No excuses.
This is an alternative way of saying the old maxim, “The customer is always right.” You may have heard that before, but do you truly know what it means? It means no excuses.
No excuses if it was completely the client’s fault.
No excuses if it was out of your hands.
No excuses at all, ever.
Excuses sneak into our conversations with clients and customers very easily. From the time we missed a scheduled call because the power went out, to the time when we made a design the wrong way because of a miscommunication.
When we make a mistake, we are tempted to explain that we haven’t made that mistake in a long time, or let them know that we had triple checked every other instance but this error somehow escaped our notice. But resist the urge. Your customer doesn’t care about why something wasn’t done right, or why you missed the meeting, or how many other things you did get right. Do not shirk responsibility, even if it wasn’t your fault.
Yesterday, my friend went to a restaurant and the entire order was wrong. When she mentioned this to the waitress, the waitress just said that the computers at the restaurant had gone down and were just coming back up. I don’t really see what that had to do with anything. The only right answer when something isn’t right in a business is, “I’m so sorry about that. How can I make it right?” Do you see how in that sentence the speaker is taking responsibility? That is music to customers’ ears.
In that instance, the waitress is focusing on her side of the situation. She wasn’t thinking about how the customer was feeling. When we make excuses, we are thinking more about ourselves than we are about our customer. When we do that, we can’t give that royal experience that should be our goal.
2. Always contact the client before they have to contact you.
If they have to contact you, it’s usually not good. Have you ever received an email from a client that says, “Where are we on this?” At that point, they are already frustrated. It’s not a good starting point.
They should never be thinking, “Man, I was supposed to hear from Tom and I haven’t yet… is he even thinking about my project?”
When they start to wonder why they haven’t heard from you, they start to doubt having trusted you to take care of their business. They think, “Was it a mistake hiring Tom?” Don’t take it personally! This is just a result of the fact that there are a lot of businesses out there that don’t have the integrity you have. As such, this is good news for your business, because you do have integrity.
Something else happens too: they’ve mentally got you on probation. Whether consciously or subconsciously, they are keeping a close eye on you to make sure you are doing everything right.
Occasionally, just send clients a quick email and ask them how everything is going. Are they happy with your work? Remind them that they can reach you or contact you anytime. Don’t worry about bugging them. They will let you know if it’s too much. Better too much communication than not enough.
3. Add customer experience items to your systems– they are fundamentals, not “extras.”
Customer experience can and should be built into the systems that you have in place to run your business. Every time you do have a “customer service problem,” the kind that requires you to apologize to a client (don’t worry, it happens to everyone at some point!), take it as a lesson and make changes in your system to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. Over time, you will have a lot fewer “customer service” moments and greatly improve your “customer experience.”
Here are some examples of how you might consider adding some proactive customer experience to your business systems:
- Add a “project midway check-in” to every project. Create a notification that pops up in your calendar halfway through the project when you and your team are still hard at work. The notification reminds you to check in with the client and tell them the progress of the project, the estimated date it will be finished, and finally, to invite them to contact you anytime with questions.
- Celebrate a customer appreciation day. Pick any day of the year (or more than once a year) to celebrate your clients and customers. On this day, you can send a little thank-you gift to clients to tell them how much you appreciate them. Even a nice unsolicited email goes a long way!
- Add a notification to check-in monthly with clients just to ask them if they need anything, if they’d like to schedule a call, or if there’s anything you can do for them.
Adding these things to the systems of your business is by far the easiest way to improve customer experience.
4. Always over-deliver.
Customer service is delivering. Customer experience is over-delivering. Over-delivering usually means offering more stuff (services or products) than was originally agreed upon, or delivering sooner than a deadline.
Watch it: if you over-deliver after making a mistake, that’s still not customer experience. When you make a mistake, you are “down one.” You offer something so that you’ll be back in good graces. This isn’t a bad thing to do. I’d say it’s a good thing to do. But just know that when you made a mistake, you were at a deficit. Now you’re back breaking even. Over-delivering must be unsolicited to be customer experience.
Top 5 Customer Experience Problems and How to Fix Them
Here are the top 5 customer experience issues I have seen:
- Making excuses.
- Going “MIA” (Not responding to emails or answering phone calls)
- Finishing projects late or just NOT early.
- Missing meetings or calls.
- Not giving clients updates on projects before you are asked.
Remember: there’s no shortcut to having good customer experience. It’s made up of all the little ways that you and your team show integrity, take responsibility for mistakes (even perceived mistakes), and keep promises. This is the foundation of your business, on which everything else is built. Don’t just have good customer service. Have an amazing customer experience and your business will never be short customers.