Brad Smith, EVP for Customer Experience, Sage North America
You’re probably hearing the words “customer experience” more often these days. Enhancing the customer experience doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive. Here are four simple and economical ways to show your customers appreciation and consideration and, ultimately, build more customer loyalty.
1. Get to know and adapt to your customers.
Owned and operated by Sue and John Elliott and their son John Jr., Davidson, N.C.-based Davidson Chocolate Co. specializes in handmade chocolates and other confections. Because the shop has three schools nearby and a grocery store next door, children regularly visit the shop with their parents. During the worst part of the economic downturn, the signature Davidson Chocolate truffles were an expensive daily treat for the children. So, Sue and John started making smaller, molded chocolates for under one dollar. They were a big hit with both the parents and children and helped build customer loyalty for Davidson Chocolate.
What might make your customers’ lives easier and their experiences happier? Put yourself in their shoes to better understand what needs you’re not currently meeting, and then act nimbly to meet them.
Perhaps you could offer more flexible, convenient payment or billing options. If you run an ecommerce business, consider extending your customer service hours by one hour each morning and evening to better accommodate shoppers in different time zones. If you’re a distributor, consider changing how you communicate about sales orders. Might a text message or other mode of communication be more immediate and convenient?
2. Give your customers more.
Founded in 1972, Auburn, Wash.-based Trees ‘n Bees, Inc., is a 40-acre cut-your-own Christmas tree farm with a wide variety of Christmas trees and approximately 30 honeybee hives located throughout the Puget Sound region. The farm, owned and operated by Carolyn Elliott, focuses on providing unique customer experiences.
Trees ‘n Bees holds wreath-making classes, beekeeping seminars, and “Cooking with Honey” classes throughout the year. Throughout December, Mrs. Claus, free apple cider, and children’s movie showings can be found in the pavilion.
And, because Trees ‘n Bees is located close to several military bases, Elliott invites military families to cut down trees any time. Part of a proud military family herself, Elliott knows it’s important for military families to celebrate Christmas whenever their service person is home. Many customers visit Trees ‘N Bees annually and one particular family has been visiting for nearly 35 years.
The first legal distiller in Loudoun County, Va., since prohibition, Purcellville, Va.-based Catoctin Creek Distilling Company distills fine organic spirits by hand. Owned by Becky and Scott Harris and founded in 2009, Catoctin Creek worked hard from day one to develop a strong social media presence, they use to their advantage when it’s time to bottle their products.
Handcrafting spirits must be done on a regular basis and is labor-intensive. So, for each bottling session, Catoctin Creek recruits 25 volunteer bottlers from their Facebook community. So many customers want to help that Becky and Scott have to, literally, turn people away.
In addition to receiving a distillery tour and lunch, volunteers can sign the labels of the bottles they help to produce. Since much of Catoctin Creek’s inventory is sold nearby, volunteers can search for their signed bottles in local stores.
Think about providing unique or special experiences, or even valuable resources, to extend your customer relationships. Could a friend in an adjacent area who is an expert in something related to your business offer free classes at your location? If you own a bakery, might you offer free cake decorating classes, or even branch out by offering jam preserving classes?
If you manage a manufacturing plant, could you offer your customers discounted, or even free, shipping during the off-season? If you’re a consultant, might you extend a free hour of advisory services for one of your firm’s specialties?
3. Be your customer’s customer.
In 2011, Sage hosted a board of directors’ dinner, with four teams competing in a ‘Top Chef’-style challenge to benefit charity. Each team created a dish made with ingredients sourced from Sage customers. The lobster, wines, meats, and chocolates all came from companies using Sage software and services to run their businesses.
And, the teams played on behalf of charities that were also Sage customers. Each charity received a donation from Sage, with the winning ‘Top Chef’ team’s charity receiving the largest donation.
The next time you plan a special event or purchase supplies for your company, look for ways to give business to your customers. Your customers support you. Why not reciprocate?
4. Prove customer feedback and requests matter.
A Davidson Chocolate customer stopped into the shop with a wine bottle she wanted to have covered in so she could give it as a wedding gift. After quickly considering the logistics, Sue fulfilled the customer’s request. The bottle looked so great that Sue created samples to put in the shop. Now, the chocolate-covered wine bottle is one of Davidson Chocolate’s bestselling items.
Your customers likely provide daily clues about how you can serve them better. If you have a Facebook page and a Twitter account, use them to solicit customer feedback. Then, take action on that feedback. You’ll likely develop stronger, more intimate customer relationships by doing so, and your customers could remember and value your business more than the competition.
You can start implementing some of these tips right away. There’s no better day than today to improve the experience for your most valuable asset: your customers.
About the Author
Brad Smith, executive vice president, customer experience, for Sage North America, has nearly 20 years of leadership experience in the web consumer, enterprise software, and communication service provider industries. He was most recently vice president of customer experience for Yahoo!, and previously held senior leadership roles with Symantec, Openwave, and Verisign. He is a member of the Forrester Customer Experience Leadership Council and the Support Services Advisory Board of the Technology Services Industry Association, and on the board of directors of the Consortium for Service Innovation. Visit: www.sagelovesourcustomers.com