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Small Business and Self-Employed

How to be customer obsessed: Putting customer experience at the heart of your small business

Customer obsession is a trendy adjective that many companies lay claim to, but few actually bring to life.

What is customer obsession? Customer obsession involves putting your customers at the heart of everything your business does. It’s the process of learning about your customers—their behaviors, goals, and challenges—and then using that information to shape every experience they have with your business.

Often, it’s associated with “surprise and delight”—grand, unexpected gestures. But customer obsession is much more than just the occasional ta-da moment. Even the less flashy things—like providing reliable customer service, creating positive customer experiences, and listening to the voice of the customer—illustrate a dedication to your patrons.

Think of customer obsession as a commitment to cultivating a positive experience for your customers at every single touchpoint, whether they’re learning about your business for the very first time or have been a loyal purchaser for years. In the words of Maria Martinez, President of Salesforce Customer Success Group:

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“Now more than ever, it is imperative that customer experience is top of mind: Businesses that do not put the customer first will struggle for relevance in an increasingly competitive market”

Let’s dig into everything you need to know about what it really means to be customer-centric—including how you can make customer obsession a core piece of your own business’ culture.

Why should you become a customer obsessed company?

Simply put, you need your customers more than they need you. Fortunately, customer obsession is the not-so-secret sauce for attraction, retention, and a positive reputation.

Let’s start with your reputation. You want people talking about your business—ideally only if they have good things to say.

However, customers don’t care about “average” experiences, and are sure to talk about negative experiences.

In fact, a research report from Zendesk says that 87% of customers will share good experiences with others, but a whopping 95% will rant about a poor experience. Beyond that, only 5% of people in the study said they shared their negative experiences with no one:

What about the money side of things? When customers have positive interactions with your business, they’re not only more likely to have increased loyalty, but they also spend more.

Three out of four consumers say they have spent more with a company because of a history of positive customer service experiences. And, even further, these experiences are actually something they’re willing to foot the bill for. 86% of customers would actually pay more for a better experience, which means this is a customer demand you can’t ignore.

How small businesses can create a customer obsessed culture

Here’s the good news: You actually learned the secret to customer obsession when you were in kindergarten; treat others as you want to be treated.

That’s the core of customer obsession. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes and think about how you’d prefer to be treated when you shop.

It’s pretty straightforward, but it’s a little more complex in practice, isn’t it?

Here are some tips you to show your customers just how dedicated to them you are.

1. Map your customer journey

Before we dig in, we should pause to make a distinction—there are three stages a person goes through before they become a “customer.”

There are prospects, who are interested but have not bought anything, buyers who have made a single purchase, and customers who purchase regularly.

To truly serve each of these groups, you need to internalize what they experience as they move through the various touchpoints of your business. That kind of empathy will begin to unveil how to improve customer relationship management within your business.

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51% of consumers will never do business with a brand after one negative experience. —New Voice Media

How does journey mapping work?

To start, return to your customer personas (or define them, if you haven’t already done so), as those different types of customers might find and interact with your business in different ways.

Next, list out all of the potential touchpoints with your business. Think things like:

  • Website
  • Social media
  • Email marketing
  • Personal contact (like phone calls, emails, or in-person conversation)

Now think about how you’d ideally like that each group to flow through your business from one of those starting points.

Imagine that your prospect first learns about your business through social media. Where do you want them to go from that single post? Perhaps you want them to click through to your website. How can you enhance the experience so that they actually do so? Once on your website, maybe your goal is to get them to sign up for a free consultation. Again, how can you encourage or incentivize them to do so?

Repeat that same process for all of your starting touchpoints and customer personas and you’ll have a much better grasp on your customer’s experience with your business—and how you can improve it.

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2. Provide a prompt response to comments and questions

This one seems obvious, but you’d be surprised by how many companies overlook this basic element of quality customer service. In fact, a reported 62% of companies don’t ever respond to customer emails. What’s worse, there’s a cavernous gap in how businesses perceive their customer service skills vs how consumers see it.

Clearly, that’s a stark contrast with the demands and expectations of the modern consumer. In today’s constantly-connected culture, 75% of online consumers expect a response within only five minutes.

Don’t panic—it’s a pretty unreasonable expectation that you’ll always be available to jump on customer questions and comments. However, it does speak to the importance of prioritizing communication with your customers on all of your different channels like:

  • Emails
  • Phone calls
  • Website contact form submissions
  • Social media comments and mentions

Buffer is a great example of a brand that places a high value on communication. Their customer service representatives actually make up what’s called the “Happiness Team” and they’re known for being super responsive—even to messages that point out potential bugs or errors.

Image via Buffer Twitter

You might not have your own “Happiness Team,” or any team at all. But if you set aside a little bit of time each day to reply to customer messages across various channels, it’ll be received far better than missing these interactions entirely.

For email inquiries, it can also be helpful to set up an automatic responder that lets customers know you’ve received their message, as well as when they can expect to hear back from you. It’s just another small connection that confirms their message isn’t floating in cyberspace and demonstrates your commitment to a positive experience.

3. Leverage data to make improvements

Customer obsession isn’t always sexy.

Most of it comes back to data and leveraging that information to understand what’s resonating with your customers, what’s falling flat, and what you need to be doing more of.

There are so many different ways you can get these insights from your current customer base, including:

  • Conducting customer feedback surveys
  • Reviewing your website, email marketing, and social media analytics
  • Monitoring what customers are saying on social media and third-party review sites

This gives you the information you need to actually anticipate and address your customers’ needs. As Gartner explains in a recent report, businesses must “act proactively to prevent customers from experiencing pain points or gaps in their journey.”

For example, when one of my Delta flights was delayed, they notified me through the app that I would likely miss my connection. I was able to book a later connecting flight right through the app—without any sort of additional charge.

That’s a large-scale scenario, but rest assured the same principle applies to small businesses as well. My favorite local coffee shops always remembers my standard coffee order. And, several times when the kitchen has been backed up, they’ve brought out muffins, loaves, or other treats to satisfy their customers appetites while they waited for their food.

You have a lot of information about your customers at your disposal (even if it’s something as simple as their go-to order or item), and you should be leaning on that data to constantly improve their experiences.

4. Find ways to surprise and delight

You likely don’t have a spare sports car to use for some free joy rides like Delta, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t find smaller, simple ways to surprise and delight your customers.

Could you send a handwritten note on your customer’s birthday or their anniversary with your business? Could you surprise them with an unexpected sweet treat on their doorstep or give a friendly shoutout on your social media accounts?

For example, Suja Juice, a cold-pressed beverage company, monitored Instagram for various hashtags like #sick or #mondayblues and reached out to those users to set them up with a free delivery of their organic juices.

That pleasant—and cost-effective—surprise likely earned them some new, loyal customers as well as some free publicity (since people love posting about perks they receive for free).

5. Get your employees onboard

Customer obsession requires a cultural shift in your business, which means it’s not something you can pull off on your own. Your employees need to be onboard and engaged in this customer-centric approach.

Grocery store, Trader Joe’s, is known for their upbeat, friendly, and helpful employees. They not only assist customers when asked, but are also notorious for providing personalized product recommendations to customers who are shopping in store.

“Everyone’s friendly. They’re genuine people too,” says an anonymous Trader Joe’s employee in an article for Thrillist, “It’s not people who’ve been told they have to act nice. It’s people who genuinely care about how the customer’s feeling; they want to give the best experience to the customer.”

Moving forward, you can hire with this attitude in mind by asking customer service interview questions like:

  • What’s the best customer service experience you’ve had? What made it so special?
  • Can you tell me about a time when you found a customer difficult to understand? How did you address that?
  • When responding to a customer, how do you decide which information to include and which to leave out?

But what should you do about your existing employees to get them to embody this customer-centric outlook? You’ll need to explain this priority to them in detail (including your goals and expectations), and might even need to incentivize this perspective to start with various rewards and recognition.

6. Be ready to constantly optimize and enhance

Customer obsession is not a “set it and forget it” business strategy; it’s an ongoing and constantly changing process. It’s so much more than fine-tuning a few areas and then letting things run. Repetition is a breeding ground for boredom, so customer obsession means you’re always evaluating and iterating each step to stay consistent and fresh.

Experience your business like your customers do on a regular basis. What happens when you submit a message through the contact form on your website? How long does it take someone to pick up when you place a call to your own business? If these aren’t options, hire a secret shopper to report back what they’ve found.

Those seemingly small behaviors go a long way in helping you figure out what to streamline and improve.

Customers don’t only want to be heard, they want to be understood. Listening to their insights without taking any action will only serve as another point of frustration.

Act on what you learn.

Customer obsession is no longer negotiable

True customer obsession used to be a competitive advantage. Today, it’s more than that.

Customers place increasingly high demands on businesses, and a customer-centric approach is more about staying relevant than becoming superior.

Long term success hinges on front line employees and leadership alike creating consistent customer experiences that focus on the customer … at every stage of their journey. Read more about our customer stories and discover the benefits of being customer-obsessed with QuickBooks.

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