Is your customer experience good enough to keep people coming back for more?

Christine Grové
Christine is a journalist from South Africa, who has lived and worked in Europe, Africa and the Middle East, covering everything from hard news to art to business & tech. Having been bitten by the travel bug as an infant, Christine finds it fairly easy to uproot herself in search of new adventures and stories. With degrees in both fine arts and journalism, she’s equally interested in visual storytelling as well as the written word. Having been part of three launch teams of three different media startups in her lifetime, she’s intimately familiar with what it takes to get a publication off the ground.

You’ve probably spent years of your life honing your product or service so that people will like it and buy it from you. You’ve put your blood, sweat and tears into it.

The unfortunate truth though is that most customers won’t ever see that or care. To them, the only real difference between you and competitors is customer experience. What they experience is largely how you’ll be defined, no matter how much work you’ve put in.

“Our studies have shown that companies will switch brands 78 percent of the time if they have a bad customer experience,” says Marie Rosecrans, SVP of small business marketing at Salesforce.

This is actually good thing to know because it means you can just concentrate on creating a positive experience for your customers.

Even though you most likely don’t have the resources of a large company, it’s interesting to see how they tackle customer experience issues. You can’t really copy the big projects they do, but you can copy their spirit, if you know what I mean. The overall goal is to have customers fall in love with your product, and stay that way. I spoke to Rosecrans about how founders can do exactly that. Here’s some of that advice.

1. Grow your product with the customer

Once a customer has used your product for a while, do they outgrow it? One of the surest ways to keep them on board is to regularly add features that fulfill their needs. Rosecrans says Salesforce updates its platform three times a year. Something like that may seem like too much for a small startup team to handle, but if you’re an entrepreneur competing in a competitive landscape you need aggressive goals. Are you ready to adjust priorities relatively quickly so you can make changes that customers clamor for? You should be.

2. Engage with customers in context

You can’t dictate where and how customers provide you feedback. You can only be ready to receive their feedback wherever they’re at. If a huge portion of your user base doesn’t want to call a customer service center, then be ready to receive their text, tweet, email, chat, Twitter direct message or whatever. And also keep on the lookout for any new modes of customer communication that become popular. A customer who can reach you easily is more likely to be loyal.

3. Create an online community

It takes a lot of time and effort, but you want to create a space online for customers to interact with each other. You don’t have to put it on your own site. Rather, you can start a subreddit or a Facebook page, among other options. No matter where you customers interact, this helps them figure out how to use your products better, and like them more. This type of community can increase referrals as well as customer engagement.

4. Have customers upvote features they like

This is kind of an offshoot of creating an online community. It again may not be feasible for the little guy, but it’s worth considering. The idea is to create an online space where customers can upvote or downvote features they’d like to see.

In lieu of creating an elaborate site yourself, try launching your product on ProductHunt. It’s very well known in the startup community as a kind of Reddit for new products, featuring Q&A’s with founders, videos and a front page where people can upvote products they like the most. I’ve talked to dozens of founders who’ve said it gives valuable customer behavior info that informs product road maps moving forward.

5. Create a customer-focused culture

What does this even mean? The long and the short of it is that once you’ve made a sale, that shouldn’t be the end of the relationship between the customer and your company. Your team should be ready to help clients with anything they need, then check back in with them to make sure it worked, or fix what didn’t. This dance should continue for the foreseeable future. All the while, the customer continues to renew their subscription or buy new products, because they’re satisfied with you.

6. Train ‘customer success experts’

A founder probably won’t have time to travel along with every customer on their journey with the product. If it’s in your budget, consider hiring someone who can do this. This person serves as a trusted advisor who can help build a personalized roadmap for each company as they use your product. From a practical standpoint, this delivers a level of accountability. If a customer declines to renew their subscription to your service, the success expert has to answer for that.

7. Give customers automated tools

Customers don’t want to call you every time they need help or guidance. By putting resources in place to help those who buy from you, you’ll be able to automate the process of helping clients. In addition to books and webinars, make sure customers can run their own reports without having to ask you to help them do it.

8. Immerse yourself in customer stories

If you want to know your customer well enough to keep them coming back for more, immerse yourself in their story. They’ll never consider you a trusted advisor if you don’t do this. Once you know much more about them, you can create a “pact” where you work together to agree what success looks like so that you can work together toward achieving it.

9. Create and distribute a “best practices” list

If you have people at your company whose job it is to make the customer experience better, help those people do their job better. Have all the team members write down their tips for working with customers on an ongoing basis. Keep this “best practices” framework somewhere where each employee can access it at any time. This will help your employees discover, learn and retain the most effective methods for working with customers and ensuring they are happy.

10. Treat each customer as unique

Know that every customer is on a unique journey, so embrace that fact. Whatever tool you’re creating, can anyone in your target market use it to support the work they do? Make some of your service automated, some available for free, and some at a charge. In doing so, you’ll increase your odds of making customers happy.

Do you ever walk into a restaurant without knowing what kind of experience other customers have had? I’m sure most of the time the answer is no. I almost always have some knowledge about a restaurant before I try it. The same goes with products. You have to take advantage of the “review culture” that exists now. Your product may have most of the bells and whistles someone wants, but what did people say about using it? This is one of the metrics you have to get right, or bells and whistles won’t matter.