How Do You Feel?

Think about the last time you ate out at a restaurant, got an oil change at the dealership or called the cable company about a service request. How was your customer experience? And, how did it make you feel?

This past holiday weekend, I went car shopping at a number of car dealerships around Atlanta, Ga. I know what you’re thinking, “Oh boy, I don’t envy you; I hate car shopping!” In fact, this was the exact response I heard from many friends and family wishing me success on my hunt for a new sedan. But, why do they feel this way, why do people hate calling the cable company or waiting for a service appointment? It’s because these businesses are notoriously known for offering a poor customer experience. But, what if it was different than you expected? According to a 2015 Autotrader study, 54 percent of customers said they would buy from a dealership that offered their preferred experience over lowest price. Moreover, 73 percent said they would drive farther just for a great salesperson.

Customer experience (CX) is your customers’ perceptions of how the company treats and values them. How far will you go for a positive CX? By the year 2020, CX is expected to overtake price and product as the top brand differentiator. Is your business ready?

Here are five tips to ramp up your company’s CX:

Tip #1: Know no strangers.

From the moment your customer steps foot through the door of your business, they should be greeted as you would any guest in your house. Make them feel at home. When you automatically make your customers feel like they belong and like their presence and business is appreciated, they will respond positively. Everyone wants to feel like a part of a community. Create a community for your customers and introduce them to your authentic brand before your product or service. Answer these questions, who are you and why should they buy from you?

Tip #2: Pull up a chair.

Whether literally or figuratively, pull up a chair for your customers and invite them to sit down. This puts your customers at ease. It’s amazing how far a comfy chair, bottle of water and air conditioning can go during the summer heat that consequently accompanies car shopping. But, car buying aside, pulling up a chair and offering a small gift (e.g., a bottle of water, notepad or pen for taking notes, etc.) invites your customers to the table. It’s an invitation to a discussion. Like any guest, you want to ask your customers about themselves first. What brought them to your door (or website)? Don’t lead with what you have to offer before you better understand what the customer seeks and what they might need. People like to talk about themselves. And, when they do, it has a positive side effect for your business. It helps you to build immediate trust and rapport. And, by uncovering your customer’s needs, you can better seek to meet them successfully.

Tip #3: Be in touch.

So, you’ve had a great date. Don’t wait three to five days to call. And, don’t blow up their phone either. Your business is much the same. Avoid any automated messages, whether by phone, text or email. It might cost you less upfront; but, it’ll cost you more in the end when you lose your personal tone and connection with your customers. Follow up by phone the next day or after the weekend if it’s a Friday. And, set dates to circle back with your customers to see how their experience is going at 30, 60 or 90 days depending on your business model. Also, be sure you’re accessible through multiple contact channels – in-person, online and via social media. Monitor your channels regularly in order to ensure a timely response and positive CX. Customers who encounter positive social customer care experiences are nearly three times more likely to recommend a brand.

Tip #4: Offer a VIP experience.

Remember, every customer is a VIP when it comes to your business. Now that doesn’t mean you can afford to roll out the red carpet for all and stay in business. But, think about how you can make your customers feel special. What added-value or special offerings can you provide to them? Is it exclusivity, a sneak peek; or, is it a pleasant surprise in their mailbox when it’s not yet their birthday? Ninety-five percent of companies fail to exceed the expectations of their customers. If you think of your customers as VIP, you’re more likely to exceed their expectations. Don’t take your customers for granted. Ask how your brand can stand out. How you can be the five percent. Customer expectation = Customer experience.

Tip #5: Don’t ask for a rating.

This may be contrary to many beliefs you have about your business. Or, what you’ve heard from others. But, the truth is, if you have to ask for a positive rating, you probably aren’t doing it right. A customer who has a positive experience will want to share their experience. Sure, a gentle reminder may be necessary and that’s not a bad thing. But, if you’re telling your customer to give you specific feedback (e.g., “Give us five stars on YELP!), that’s a big faux pas for your business. It automatically implies an undue pressure to your customers and tells them how they should feel versus asking them to share how they actually feel. Instead, invite your customers to share their experience (positive or negative) either in a post-visit, email survey or with your #hashtag on social media, depending on how your company collects customer feedback. Providing feedback as a customer should be a voluntary experience, not a pushy, self-promoting marketing tactic for your business.

So, how do you feel about your company’s CX today? And, how do you think your customer’s feel about it?

If you’re wondering whether I found a car, the answer is yes! And, the CX wasn’t too bad either. Don’t wait until 2020 to begin focusing on CX. Your customers’ experiences with your brand are happening now, every day and at every hour. Map out your customer’s journey, consider all of the touch points, messages, exposures and atmospheres they may have the opportunity to experience with your brand. Is there room for improvement? Seventy-four percent of today’s customers admit that they have spent more due to good customer service. In order to deliver a positive CX, you have to understand your customers well. Your company’s CX should be smooth, authentic, pleasant, consistent and continuously improving.