Customer ExperienceI used to have a personal philosophy that if I had a problem with service at a place of business, I had a responsibility to share it with the owner or manager so that they could improve the way they do business.  After all, they can’t observe every action, interaction, reaction and transaction between their staff and their customer, so this was my way of providing valuable feedback so that they could move the dial towards an exceptional customer experience.

But over lunch with my sister at a small cafe in Denver (in the process of receiving really poor service), she suggested a paradigm shift for me about my approach.  Her position was that businesses have one shot to get a customer experience right; maybe two if they are extremely lucky.  That every touch with a customer has to be consistently extraordinary in order to create a raving fan.   As the General Manager of JetBlue’s Los Angeles station, she knows about creating 5-star customer experiences, as JetBlue consistently ranks at the top in customer satisfaction surveys. So her overarching question was, if their service is so bad clearly they don’t value training, and if they don’t value training do you think they really value your opinion?

She raised a valid point, and since that conversation I have spent my time equally educating consumers on how to influence the buying decisions of other consumers looking for advice about a business, and consulting to businesses on the best practices for creating raving fans and leveraging reviews with the power of the internet in order to grow their sales. What’s happening online with consumers is creating a massive opportunity for businesses who are forward thinking and ready to make adaptations to their growth strategies.  So what’s going on and how does it all tie together with growing your business?

A shift in power

You can’t talk about growing your traffic or sales in today’s economy without talking about the increasing population of consumers who are voicing their opinions about your business online.  Here’s how it works:

  1. They come to your place of business and have an ‘experience’.
  2. They go online to a ratings and review site like Yelp, Four Square, Trip Advisor or any of the other 50+ local directories and say exactly what they think of your business and their experience (good, bad or indifferent).
  3. Other consumers who are searching for your solution online see these reviews at the top of the search results (because these review websites typically propagate to the top of a search query).
  4. Prospects are influenced by the social proof these reviews provide (again, good, bad or indifferent). Don’t think these stars carry meaning?  Check out this study by Harvard Business School that proves positive reviews increases sales.
  5. And this is where you and your competition are in the equivalent of an old fashioned butt kicking contest.

The internet, and review sites specifically, have created a shift in power when it comes to the size of the consumer’s mighty ‘word of mouth’ sword.  Word of mouth marketing, which used to run at the speed of two neighbors talking over a fence, is unmeasurably greater today.  It’s on steroids; it’s like Godzilla!  Vocal consumers are influencing the purchasing behaviors of untold numbers of prospects and if your business is in the cross-hairs of a disgruntled customer who is reviewing you online, then look out because they are single handedly taking dollars out of your register.

The net-net is that if you choose to do nothing, then your business has a time stamp on it.

So how can businesses leverage these review sites to grow their traffic and sales?  In my work with businesses in creating a 5-star customer experience that leads to raving fans that spread the good word, we always reverse engineer a desired outcome (which is almost always fat stacks of cash yo).

The following are 9 things every business should be doing with every prospect or customer:

  1. Greet them warmly, like they are family.  (Cost:  Free; lead and inspire your staff to embrace your core values)
  2. Get to the heart of what they care and value, and anticipate their needs. (Cost: Free; train your staff to ask the right questions)
  3. Provide exceptional service. (Cost: Free; meeting expectations is what’s expected… be extraordinary!)
  4. Express gratitude for choosing your business over your competitors. (Cost: Free; connect dots in your staffs mind that their job depends on it, because it does!)
  5. Develop trust that leads to loyalty so that they want to be an evangelist and help spread the word. (Cost: Free; watch this to learn how).
  6. Provide them with an incentive in exchange for a review online. (Cost: Allocate a minimum of 10% of your Customer Value to thank them.)
  7. Leverage this review in the social networks. (Cost: About 10 minutes of time to take the testimonial and broadcast it through the social networks, on your website and in your next email broadcast).
  8. Continue to stay top-of-mind by providing valuable tips and strategies via email — still the highest converting form of marketing. (Cost: about 1 hour of your time to write a one email).
  9. Remind them of when they need your product or service again. (Cost: About $15 a month for a good CRM like Nimble which will remind you of when to reconnect with existing customers).

3 simple action items to create a tipping point

innovators In the theory of the Diffusion of Innovation, the Innovators and Early Adopters who have already integrated an online marketing strategy are dominating their niches.  Straight up crushing their competition in the online searches.  As we’re just entering the Early Majority stage, there are two simple things you need to do now.

  1. Is your staff projecting your core values? Are your prospects and customers feeling the warm fuzzies when they contact your business?
  2. Action item #2 is to understand where you are positioned in your niche against your competitors.
  3. Action item #3 is to have a road map that shows you step-by-step how to build your online foundation so that you attract your perfect customer, wow them, create a raving fan and an evangelist. The road map for your specific business only comes after we know where you are, where you want to be and how the action items are going to be dispersed.

Increasing your traffic and sales has never been easier if you know where the money trail starts and how to nurture it along the way.  It starts with your customer experience.