If your market’s perception of what you sell – your service or product – is no different from others in your trading area, you sell a commodity. And if that’s the perception, (so pervasive that even you accept it) you’re in a dangerous trap because the only way you can compete is on price. And that’s a recipe for disaster.
When your product is a commodity – gas, phone service, accounting, insurance, gifts, car repair, housecleaning, real estate, consulting (insert your business here – because anything can be reduced to a commodity if you permit it) – then it is your business that must become the product. It is your business that is the differentiator. Your business is never a commodity. Your business is absolutely unique. It is, after all, your business!
So then, your product is your customers’ experience of your business – an experience that distinguishes and elevates it above and beyond all those other businesses claiming to be selling the same thing.
Wow Them From the Beginning
It has been said that first impressions last. This is certainly true of the customer experience. If the initial exposure to your company creates positive impressions, the customer is primed for further positive experiences and will be positively biased. If initial exposures are negative, customers anticipate more of the same. You can sometimes reverse negative impressions, but you may not get the chance.
Everything your business does that has any direct or indirect impact on your customers has to be recognized, evaluated, and managed with the clear intention of creating the most consistent, impactful, and memorable experience possible. That’s what will bring customers to you and keep them with you for the long haul. That’s what will stimulate them to share you within their sphere of influence.
Remember, it does you no good to do everything right once. You have to create those unique, positive impressions from the start, and then ensure the customer experience stays positive and consistent throughout repeated exposures. It’s far easier and less expensive to get ahead and stay ahead (get positive and stay positive) than it is to reverse a negative situation or tread water in a fickle market that only responds to price.
The underlying strategy for creating the best possible customer experience and loyalty begins with your lead generation activities. Your customers’ very first impressions come from something they see, hear or read that positively attracts their attention and sets up their expectations. If your initial message is “The Friendliest Market in the County” or “The Contractor’s Hardware Store,” then everything you do – and most critically, everything your customer experiences from that point forward – must consciously and intentionally support and confirm that message to reinforce that favorable impression and further distinguish you from your competitors.
Exceed their expectations. Surprise and delight them.
Wow Them with Little Unexpected Things
The variety of things a business owner can do to create and sustain a memorable customer experience is endless. It starts from the very first phone call or email response.
A real estate agent we know goes above and beyond in a number of ways for her clients. Her first-time homebuyers find a gift basket waiting for them in the front room. The basket contains a beautiful thank-you card, a selection of new, basic kitchen utensils, and a gift card from a local restaurant to allow them to take their move-in helpers out for dinner.
One of my clients shared the story of buying her first used car from a local dealer. As she got in to drive it home she found a bouquet of roses on the passenger seat. She was as impressed with the flowers as she was with the freshly detailed vehicle and shining, dressed tires!
Another client, a residential remodeling contractor, has begun creating photographic chronicles of his clients’ projects and then presenting it in the form of a hard-bound memory album. The cost is insubstantial and insignificant in light of the surprise and delight it brings to his customers.
An automotive shop in my town transformed his lobby from a cold, uninviting space with cracked linoleum floors and stacks of dated magazines to an oasis. He carpeted the floor, installed a flat-screen television, provides free Wi-Fi, a coffee and espresso bar, fresh fruit, and a number of comfy chairs and sofas. He reports that, instead of fleeing, as they used to, customers stay around to take a break, drink coffee, and use their laptops!
A client raved recently about her dry cleaner. He is definitely not the only dry cleaner in town. He is not the least expensive, and he’s a considerable distance from her home. So, what did he do that was unique enough to cause someone like Suzanne to consistently to go out of her way and spend more than she might need to? The free garment bag they provided was a plus. The friendly reminders they give her about upcoming social events are nice, as are the little cedar blocks they provide for her stored clothing. But what turned her into a raving fan one rainy day was the “valet” service they offered that allowed her to call from the parking lot and have her clothes delivered to her car!
Simple. Unique. Memorable.
Building a memorable customer experience:
1. Consider what you are promising. What do you want your customers’ expectations to be? What can you learn from studying your competitors about their promises?
2. Identify all the elements, or touch points, in your customers’ experience that either confirm and reinforce, or compromise your promise.
3. Evaluate your potential for consistency and repeatability at these touch points. Does it only work if you’re at the counter or on the phone? What would you have in place (system, process, scripting, check-list?) to guarantee that your customers’ positive expectations are satisfied at every point, no matter who they encounter?
4. Keep your focus, and encourage your staff to maintain the same level of attention to creating, innovating, and maintaining the best possible unique customer experience.
This positioning and differentiating will draw new customers to you and cement the ones already doing business with you. If you aren’t currently the best in your market, you soon will be!
Editor’s note: What was the simple, unique, or memorable experience you’ve had with a business that made you a raving fan? What have you done in your own business to surprise, delight, and WOW your customers that reinforces their loyalty?