Consider the last time you purchased a new television or tried a new restaurant. It’s unlikely you chose that TV or restaurant at random. You probably looked at online reviews or chose based on another person’s recommendation. This is the power of social proof of a customer’s experience, and it’s absolutely crucial to attracting new customers.
Social proof can take the form of customer testimonials, reviews, case studies, word-of-mouth, or even shares on social media. Companies with the greatest social proof tend to be those that invest heavily in experience management.
Customer experience is the sum of every interaction a customer has with your company. Companies focused on experience management strive to monitor and improve every interaction. While your business may provide adequate customer service, it’s probably not good enough to earn rave reviews.
How to Deliver on a 5-star Customer Experience
Here are four ways to deliver a customer experience that generates positive social proof:
1. Start with the problem you’re solving for your customer.
Providing a stellar customer experience begins with empathy. You must put yourself in your customers’ shoes to understand what they’re dealing with and how your product can help.
Take Hatch, for instance. The company started making simple white-noise machines for babies and now bills itself as “the leader in sleep.” Hatch was founded by Ann Crady and Dave Weiss, who were parents struggling to get good rest. They understood that their customer base would be sleep-deprived parents. The device had to be simple to use out of the box, as well as safe and effective. By solving their customers’ one big problem, the company has grown and expanded its offerings.
The problem your business aims to solve might not be as straightforward as sleep. Maybe you provide no-frills email marketing for businesses on a budget or speedy HVAC repairs. No matter what product or service you provide, you should start with understanding your customers’ pain points.
2. Examine the entire customer journey.
An amazing customer experience doesn’t start when someone walks in your store, and it doesn’t end with a purchase. It starts from the moment a customer decides that she has a need and begins researching her options.
After awareness, the customer moves to consideration, where she is comparing products or services. Once she makes a purchase, the journey continues. You must work to keep that customer happy by providing stellar service. This is how you transform a one-time buyer into a repeat customer — and, hopefully, a brand advocate.
Outdoor retailer REI Co-op is one company that has mastered each phase of the customer journey. Its site is designed with the outdoor enthusiast in mind — and helps customers throughout the research and decision-making process.
Take the reviews for a single trail-running shoe, for instance. Customer reviews don’t just include the buyer’s height and weight or typical shoe size. They also include the reviewer’s experience level, average weekly mileage, normal running terrain, and use for the shoe.
REI’s sales associates are all serious about the outdoors themselves. So when a customer comes into a retail store, there’s always an experienced hiker, rock-climber, or cyclist ready to assist. The retailer offers a generous one-year satisfaction guarantee on the products it sells. And, because REI is a co-op, it encourages and rewards brand advocates with 5 percent back on every purchase.
3. Gather data every step of the way.
Even when you obsessively craft a seamless customer journey, there can still be unexpected hiccups that derail the customer experience. Your page load speeds may be slow, or there may be a technical glitch that prevents customers from completing a purchase. In a brick-and-mortar environment, long check-out lines or rude associates can ruin the customer experience. If you run a service-based business, customers may be put off by the sales process or inadequate customer support. Any or all of these things can contribute to customer churn and lead to less-than-glowing reviews.
To get to the root of the problem, you need data. In a digital ecosystem, you can track a customer’s movement around your website and look at your cart abandonment rate. When you add human sales reps into the mix, you may have to work harder to uncover the issue. This might entail gathering customer feedback, sitting in on sales calls, or reviewing support tickets to identify the problem.
Once you understand where your customer experience is being derailed, it’s important to act fast. Let your customers know that you are working hard to improve their experience. If there are specific incidents you need to address, apologize and thank the customers for bringing the problem to your attention. Then get to work finding a solution. The more proactive and responsive you are, the more likely you’ll be able to turn an unhappy customer into a happy one.
Remember Hatch and its rave reviews? These are due in part to the company’s proactive tech support. When the in-app diagnostics detect that a sound machine is experiencing issues, customer support immediately offers to ship a replacement device. This saves frazzled parents from having to troubleshoot on the phone or pack up a device for return.
4. Empower your employees to go above and beyond to meet a customer’s needs.
Once your company grows to a certain size, you can no longer tackle every customer-service issue yourself. You must empower your employees to go the extra mile to meet your customers’ needs.
Chances are you’ve heard customer-service stories that were so heartwarming that they went viral. Trader Joe’s is a company that’s grown a cult following for its incredible customer experience. The lengths to which its employees will go to help customers became clear when one Trader Joe’s delivered groceries to an elderly man in a snowstorm. United Airlines made headlines when it delayed a flight so a man could say goodbye to his dying mother. These stories are uplifting, to be sure, but how do you make these amazing acts of customer service scalable?
One way is to train your representatives well and teach them to be great listeners. Pet food brand Blue Buffalo does this by sending out representatives to pet stores to educate customers about their products. Representatives are well-versed on nutrition, and their job is to listen to pet owners and fully understand their animals’ needs. Have a picky Alaskan Malamute with a sensitive stomach? The rep will point you toward the appropriate line of dog food most likely to meet your needs.
It’s also important to give your customer-service reps the ability to act on the customer’s behalf. Amazon is one company that has done this well since the beginning. Customer obsession is one of Jeff Bezos’s key leadership principles. So is bias for action. Rather than requiring a manager’s approval, Amazon customer-service reps are empowered to resolve issues immediately.
Today, your customers have lots of choices, so delivering a stellar customer experience has never been more important. With your competitors only a click away, you need every glowing recommendation and five-star review you can get. The secret to a happy customer base is crafting the customer journey with empathy. Start with the problem your business solves, and work to make every touchpoint seamless.