As I’ve discussed in previous articles, I’m a “success junkie”. By that I don’t mean that I spend every waking minute planning and executing strategies to create more opportunities, and therefore greater success, for myself – although that isn’t too far from the truth!. My obsession with success is based on wanting (needing, actually) to know everything about what motivates successful people.
In other words, what makes them tick and which skill sets do they have that make them extraordinary? When I hear about CEOs who have driven their companies far beyond competitors, even re-inventing entire categories of business and revolutionizing (Bill Gates, Fred “FedEx” Smith, Elon Musk, Ray Kroc), I have a burning desire to find out more. Although my personal journey is transforming myself into an accomplished entrepreneur, my passion is interviewing and writing about other exceptional businessmen and women.
I interviewed my good friend and business coach Kara James. She provided me with valuable content she will be including in an upcoming book of her own, her fourth by the way. In addition to being an in-demand advisor to CEOs and executives, she’s the VP of Human Resources at Jason Miller’s Strategic Advisor Board, which means she works shoulder to shoulder with nine other exceptional business leaders on an ongoing basis!
The following content is based on the interview and other content I received form Kara .
Put Customer Experience Above All Else in Your Business
Life is full of experiences. Some good, some so-so, and some just plain lousy.
Imagine arriving at a gate at the airport and being told the airliner is oversold. Your mind races at the thought of missing the flight and your connection at the next airport. You realize in horror that this scenario means you’ll be late for that important sales presentation.
Then the ticket clerk tells you passengers in the coach are being randomly bumped and you have to wait for no-shows to find out if you’ll get on the flight. Consequently, the next forty-five minutes are an anxiety-ridden nightmare as you contemplate how you’ll spend the next four hours should you be denied a seat. You begin rehearsing the apologetic calls you’ll have to make to your prospect and your employer.
Obviously, this is an example of a terrible experience. Would you ever choose to book a flight with that airline again?
On the other hand, if the representative had told you the flight was oversold so they were upgrading you to first class at no additional cost – you’d probably fall in love with that airline and make them your go-to choice from that day on.
Quite a difference, wouldn’t you agree?
Companies and executive leadership teams that “get it” when it comes to delivering exceptional customer experiences typically are rewarded by their customers with loyalty and, equally important, strong online reviews and excellent word-of-mouth. The old expression is true – make a customer happy and they’ll tell a handful of people how great your company is but make a customer furious, and they’ll tell everybody.
People Pleasing is Job #1
So, if customer experience is such a crucial factor to success, why do some businesses seem to be so cavalier about listening to their customers and striving to please them? Cable companies, Internet service providers, wireless carriers, health insurers, and, yes, airlines – I’m talking to you!
It isn’t just my opinion that these are the industries most hated by consumers. This is the list compiled by the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), an organization which asks consumers how they really feel about their experiences with a broad spectrum of industries. As would expect, most consumers are delighted to have the opportunity to vent their frustration and don’t hold back in the least.
In their latest report issued May 10 of this year, the ACSI found that customer satisfaction is now at the lowest level in 17 years. Only 73.2% of consumers said they were satisfied with the goods and services they purchased in the first quarter of 2022. The dip of 0.1% from the previous year is largely attributed to COVID-19 and supply chain interruptions, factors clearly beyond the control of virtually all businesses, here in the U.S. and overseas.
Still, over the past several years only 62% of Americans say they are satisfied with their cable and ISP providers. For industries with over 70 and 30 years of serving the public respectively (the first cable provider launched in 1948 and inaugural ISP service in 1989), these are dismally low satisfaction levels. (Could this outcome be in part due to the de facto geographic monopolies the F.C.C. has permitted to exist in our otherwise capitalist marketplace?)
For whatever reason, it almost seems that certain corporations either aren’t aware or don’t care that happy customers usually become loyal customers, which drives sales volume and equates to greater, more predictable revenue. It’s not hard to figure out.
As Michael LeBeouf, the author of popular business management books such as ‘Working Smart’ and ‘Imagineering’ once said, “A satisfied customer is the best business strategy of all”.
It’s especially perplexing when one considers that Customer Experience basically boils down to two factors: People and products. The people who interact with the public are responsible for delivering high quality service with a smile and the products either meet the quality and value expectations of the customer or they don’t.
How to Get It Right
So how does one go about making the customer experience the most important thing in your business? Here are a few tips:
Have a customer-centric mindset
A customer-centric mindset is one that focuses on the customer’s needs, wants, and desires. It emphasizes the importance of the customer experience and strives to deliver it in a way that exceeds expectations. As the business owner, you should always be asking yourself, “What do my customers need and how quickly can I deliver?”
The second critical and often overlooked step is to take care of your employees. If your employees are happy, they will be more likely to provide great customer service. Make sure that you have policies in place that allow them time off, and if possible, provide them with benefits like health insurance and retirement.
One of the best examples of the importance of this is Southwest Airlines (ironic, I know!). When Herb Kelleher co-founded the discount airline in 1967 (lawsuits by rivals delayed the launch until 1971), he famously instituted a policy of ’employees first’. Knowing how critical the customer experience would be, particularly for fliers paying an average of just $25 per ticket, Herb wanted
employees to enjoy working for the fledgling regional carrier and exhibit pride in serving the public. He stated his philosophy this way:
“Employees first, customers second, shareholders third. If the employees serve the customer well, the customer comes back, and that makes the shareholders happy.”
“Listen to your customers” is a directive so deeply ingrained in management books and courses it has become a cliché. However, doing so consistently is the foundation for understanding the customer’s needs and concerns. And I don’t mean providing lip service. Listening means truly hearing what your customers are saying and taking it into consideration in how your business functions.
In service-based industries, it’s well-known that the objective is to “sell them what they want but give them what they need”. For example, a client may think they need leads. But, being that they already have leads, what they really need is help with their messaging for those leads to most effectively express what the offer is and why it is ideal for that particular customer.
A high performing customer service representative should know how to respond appropriately to the customer’s needs, whether that is through empathy or by providing an answer or solution. All first-line employees (and yes, this includes those answering the phone), are spokespersons for the business. The impression they make can set the tone for the entire customer experience.
Make sure all issues are taken seriously, handled promptly, and resolved to the satisfaction of the customer. Then, take action to ensure this problem won’t happen again in the future with another customer. The customer is not always right, but you can always do right by them.
Offer enticements to loyal customers to keep them coming back. These can be reward points for redemption of additional products or services, refer-a-friend offers, and discounts for volume purchases or subscribing for monthly delivery. There are a variety of low-cost and easy to administer ways to issue and track such programs, such as loyalty memberships, gift cards, coupons, and scannable barcodes and QR (Quick Response) tags.
Depending on the nature of your business, strive to offer a strong variety of products and services. In addition to a competitive advantage, this provides your customers with the option to try different variations of what you offer, making them more likely to choose you as their go-to business.
Make sure your customers are satisfied with their purchase by sending a survey via email or at the bottom of their receipt. Ask if there’s anything that you could change as a business owner to make their experience exceptional. People love being asked what they think and having the opportunity to make their opinions known. Take feedback seriously and make adjustments to your business accordingly to meet their needs and desires.
Achieving excellence in the Customer Experience your business provides isn’t difficult. In fact, it’s simple if the right conditions are in place on a day-to-day basis. That begins with you, the owner. If you’re passionate about what you do and the service and value you deliver to the consumer, this will trickle down to your entire team. When you have employees who feel empowered and rewarded, their positive attitude will radiate to the customers they serve. Finally, when your customers are treated with respect and professionalism, they feel appreciated and are glad they choose to do business with you.
It’s often been said that the best advertising of all is a customer who will sing your praises because they want to tell others of their positive experience. By keeping your focus on the Customer Experience, your best salespeople will extend far beyond your staff.
Kara James is the CEO and Founder of Pursue and Thrive, business coaching and VP of HR for the Strategic Advisor Board. She has helped many business owners in various niches dramatically increase their revenue by helping them create different tiered unique offers to fill their value ladder, which helps create a consistent flow of revenue in their business’ month after month. Kara is a 3x international bestseller and has certifications in Business and Entrepreneurial Coaching, Digital Marketing, Life and Motivational Coaching as well as a “triple threat” certification in Offer Creation, Copywriting and Funnel Building from FGS as well as Online Productivity from Harvard.