Let’s talk about what it means to connect with your customers. Every time someone comes to your store or restaurant, visits your website or Facebook page, and every time they buy from you, they have a customer experience. (This applies to nonprofit organizations and municipalities, too where the customer is a donor, volunteer, client, community resident or vendor.) You have a lot of influence on whether they have a good experience or not. When customers have a good experience you have a great opportunity to encourage them to continue engaging with your business and building a long term relationship.
CX = Customer Experience
There’s a new acronym–CX. Have you seen it? Like we need more acronyms, right? This one stands for ‘Customer Experience’. When you are in business, customers make ALL the choices that determine your success. They choose whether or not to shop at your store or call your service; whether or not to buy from you; whether to recommend you to their friends or not; and they decide if or when they will return for more. The good news is that as a business owner, YOU make all the choices that determine your customers’ experience.
“Customers make ALL the final choices that determine your success.”
The kind of experience your customers have with your business or brand goes a long way in determining whether they will be loyal or connect with your business. Of course we all know that if they have a bad experience they will engage as our biggest anti-fans ever. That’s where those bad reviews on Yelp and Facebook come from–that one person we ignored. Yikes.
The Easiest Way to Lose
I had this dreadful customer experience the other day at a book store far, far away. I get annoyed every time I think about it and, of course, I will not engage with the store ever again (at least that is how I feel today). There were signs ‘buy one get one free’. What a great sale for a reader! I happily shopped for several books and spent a bit of time in the store. At check out, the books did not ring up on sale. The cashier asked for my money. I reminded her the books were on sale. She showed me that they did not ring up on sale. I reminded her the books were on sale…and on it went. Not once did she try to solve the problem, such as call a manager or ask another cashier to help fix it. Not once did she even sound like she cared. My choice as a customer was to pay full price or not. I chose not. Yes, I guess I am THAT customer, but she lost her company a $50 sale and a lot of future business.
So, as you can see, customer experience can lead to keeping or losing customers and customer retention is a very big deal. Harvard Business claims that increasing customer retention by just 5% will increase your sales 25%-95% a year. That is a lot of money to let walk out the door. According to a recent Gallup Poll, customers are 9 times more likely to engage with a brand whose service they rate as ‘courteous, willing and helpful’ than those who are not.
What About Your Customers?
How would your customers rate their experience with your business, your products, your employees? Would they say you are courteous, willing and helpful? People will love your business if you take care of them. It is really simple. Just smile, like you are glad they dropped by, act like you care that they enjoy their time with you and be sure to help them spend their money on whatever it is they want. So many businesses do not make people feel special that it is pretty easy to beat your competitors simply by teaching your employees how to smile and say, “hi” to everyone who comes through the door. Beyond that, perhaps you can work to make sure every employee knows how to help solve customers’ problems or at least look like they are trying.
Where’s the Pie?
No, unfortunately, we aren’t talking about our family’s favorite recipe, but instead the market for your products or services that marketers compare to a pie. In marketing language the pie represents all those customers buying your product from somewhere. The size of the pie includes consumers who could reasonably be willing to buy from you. Ok, ok, it’s true I liked economics. My professor thought I was really strange because it made sense to me…now I just have to see if the important bits can make sense to you, too.
How Big is the Pie?
What are the boundaries of your market? Your pie can include everyone in the local city, or even wider, in a county and beyond. If you sell online, it includes people looking for your product or service on the internet. If, like me, you can provide your service to anyone anywhere, then your pie is a really big national or even international one. But for most brick and mortar stores, it is people who live here, live nearby, who are visiting or even driving through on their way to the beach.
The tricky thing about the market pie is that it changes size. It is not always the same. Your 65 year-old customers may stop buying products they loved ten years ago. The local 18 year-old folks, who just started working, are now potential customers with money to spend, hopefully in your store. People moving into the area get added to the market. So while some parts shrink, others expand.
Why should you care about this pie? Because it might be bigger than you know, which means you may have access to more customers (and sales) than your current marketing plan includes. How big your piece of this pie is, your market share, depends on how big the total pie is. So, if you expand your market to reach out to customers in other places, in other age groups, the pie gets bigger (more total customers) and now your share in this bigger market is also larger. That, of course, means more customers and sales for your goods or services!
Getting Your Share
Now we are back to the dreaded work of marketing. If your market does not know you exist, then you don’t exist–for them anyway. If they can’t find you in the places they frequent, whether that is the newspaper, radio, internet, local hotels, their email inbox or the community bulletin board, then they won’t know about your great products, sales events or loyalty program. And I hate to be the one to bring bad news, but that means someone else is getting your piece of the pie.
The process of trying to increase your market share is constant. You can never stop trying to win new customers. And everything in business comes back to your customers. Who are they? Where are they? Are you reaching them?
So now you get to think about where your potential customers hang out looking for local products or services. When they are new in town who do they call or what do they read to find out how who to do business with? When they are visiting and staying in a hotel how do they know you are here? What search terms are they using in Google for local shopping and does your name come up in the list?
Isn’t it exciting thinking about all those new customers?
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Anyone running a business knows it is a lot of hard work. The dream we all had about being our own boss and having more free time, well, it was a nice dream. Having a business means you also have customers and customers can be a challenge.
Just Plain Finicky
Many customers are finicky. Demanding. Hard to please. Now, more than any other time in history, they are better informed and less inclined to be loyal. Back in the day, before Amazon, if you were a local store, you could stock your shelves and all the local folks would buy. People did not go online looking for reviews or better prices. What’s up with that?
Well, it’s a brand new media-driven world. Sigh. At the end of 2014, 1.6 billion people worldwide owned smart phones. By the end of 2015, that number would be over 2 billion. In the United States, 77% of the population owned a smartphone by 2016.
In this very connected world, customers are in their cars, at the cafe, standing in line to buy groceries and they are going on the internet with their phones to check out products. I do it myself. Standing in a hardware store, looking at the latest sprinkler with its plastic-non-metal frame, I go online, type in the model number and the word ‘reviews’ and there it is–everything the buyers said about it. Good or bad, it is all there for me to see and decide if that lifetime warranty means anything or not.
I don’t see myself as finicky, just a smart shopper. Like, is it too much to ask that a sprinkler work for more than one season? My dad has sprinklers from when I was a kid that still work. Me, I have a box of watering devices that sort-of sprinkle. So from my perspective, the first business that sells me an honest-to-goodness, bullet-proof, ‘yard irrigation solution’ will have my business. Now really, does that make me a demanding customer? Maybe.
But now that you see one of the real-life challenges of an ordinary customer, you understand how your products provide solutions to your customers’ needs. This includes everything from a gift item for an eccentric aunt, a baby toy that does NOT make noise for an already stressed mom to an auto service package for the business person who has no time to figure out which auto repair shop is the best.
Bring on the Solutions
All customers are just out looking for a solution to their problem. That’s what your customers are thinking about. The first business that we trust and that fits into budget may find themselves the winner of our wallet. So the goal for those of us in business is to be that go-to solution.
You should also know that when people head to a store they expect to spend money. They are willing to pay for a solution right then. Most of us don’t really want to shop online we want to buy it today. So I leave you to think about how you can find out what problems your customers are having when they come into your business. When you understand your customers’ needs, you can be their immediate solution and you will make more sales. Exciting, right?
Check out our Resources to find more help on running your business.