The Year of Customer Experience in Small Businesses

You can create, affect and influence your customers' experiences - and as a small business owner who cares about your customers and your business, you better be. 

In 2018 and beyond, the customer experience is predicted to be the greatest differentiator of companies, especially small businesses. 

So, will you be watching from the wings during this evolution, observing the big players and then scaling those tactics down to your smaller, boutique businesses? I hope not.

Below are six things that small businesses should do to affect their customers' experiences. 

What if small businesses choose to lead the customer experience transformation?
— Kimberly Sundt
 
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This time of year, a multitude of predictive reports are published.  Below are links to three that provide useful information, but  are often complex and filled with stats that are best applied to bigger companies. Read away, but if you are curious to simply know how these findings relate to small business, I have taken these and given small business recommendations below.

FORRESTER - If you aren't familiar with Forrester, it is a market research company that is often considered the king of understanding customer behavior. 

At the end of last year, they published their 2018 Customer Experience Predictions and it's worth a read if you want to dig deeper. Here is a quote from the report. 

Customers’ expectations will outpace companies’ ability to evolve or invent experiences, and the deferred transformation in 2017 means that companies can’t adjust fast enough or well enough. In 2018, 30% of companies will see further declines in CX performance, and those declines will translate into a net loss of a point of growth.

WALKER -- a  Walker Study states that by the year 2020, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator.

TEMPKIN -- and, with regards to customer experience, The Tempkin Report is calling 2018, "The Year of Humanity."

I am more convinced than ever that if small businesses will focus on the emotional outcomes that they want to create for their customers, they can be ahead of their customers’ expectations. 
— Kimberly Sundt

After studying these reports and combining the predictions with my own experience, I have outlined below what I hope small businesses will consider when deliberately designing their customer experience and marketing strategies in 2018.

1   |   AFFECT THE WAY YOUR CUSTOMERS FEEL

I think this is the most critical and change-worthy thing you can do. Ask yourself how you want your customers to feel and then reverse-engineer it.

Once you figure this out, it
a.    helps you focus and
b.    becomes your guide and your compass for many of your decisions

Ask yourself, "how do I want my customers to feel?"

2  |  UNDERSTAND YOUR CUSTOMERS' NEEDS AND WANTS

There is a difference between what your customers need and what they want. Remember, the emotions are tied to what they want.

Recently, my American Express card was compromised (when did "compromised" become the term for this?) and AMEX sent a new card through UPS.
The delivery was late - DAYS late.
It was a holiday.
I was travelling.
I was on the phone with UPS for about 3.5 hours.
Yep - 3.5 hours.
Right before the holidays.

I needed my card, but what I wanted was for someone to fix the situation, apologize, stop giving excuses and help me have a peaceful holiday and travel day, and get off the phone.

3  |  HIRE AND TRAIN TO ENABLE YOUR EMPLOYEES TO CREATE AND DELIVER BETTER EXPERIENCES

In 2018, I think the hiring and onboarding process will be as critical as the training.

You can teach someone how to serve the meal, how to give a tour, the elements of design, merchandising, how to deliver, how to sell, how to dance!

However, you cannot teach curiosity, empathy, spirit, self-motivation, to be kind, to care.

You can inspire and motivate all of these, but you will already be ahead if you ask the right questions before you hire. 

4  |  BRING YOUR BRAND TO LIFE THROUGH THESE EXPERIENCES

Oh heck, what does this even mean?

Your brand has a personality. You most likely have budget for your logo design, website, collateral, etc., and these represent your brand. 

But, does your brand come to life?

When you create the experience for each customer touchpoint,  your brand will live and breathe throughout all areas of your business.

5  |  MAKE SURE YOUR CUSTOMERS/CLIENTS/ATTENDEES ARE TALKING ABOUT YOU

So you've created the experiences. Now make sure you make it easy for your customers to talk about you.

Know what you want them to say and create experiences that help them say it.

Make it easy for them to post on social media.

Help them share their experiences with their friends and their followers - your future customers. 

6  |  STAY FLEXIBLE AND FLUID

Always watch and listen to your customers and always adjust.

Along with your employees, your customers are your greatest source of research and information.

Watch.
Listen.

 
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The importance of the customer experience is nothing new.

However, in this age of the connected economy, it is at the forefront of discussions, by both business owners and their customers. 

In 1999 (TWENTY YEARS AGO!!!) Joseph Pine and James Gilmore wrote The Experience EconomyIt is still my go-to resource on how the customer thinks and the roles we play during the customer experience. It's so worth the read and has been updated since 1999!

In 2018, why don't you start changing the customer experience standard? What if your customers not only engaged, but used you as their example when defining "the best customer experience." Let me know about your questions and your successes!