The internet has fundamentally changed the way marketers should be thinking about reaching their audience. It’s time to realize you’re no longer in control of the buyer’s decision-making process. All you can do is affect the customer experience.
Customers use the internet to do their own research into companies and products by reading reviews and asking for referrals.
Study after study shows that an overwhelming majority of people trust a third-party resource far more than any sort of branded content.
So, the new name of the game is generating those referrals, recommendations and glowing third-party reviews that drive sales, and turning those sales into even more positive reviews. At the end of the day, this can be achieved by creating a truly great customer experience.
The customer experience is still under your control
It’s easy to feel a little powerless as a small business trying to navigate the waters of digital marketing when behemoths like Google, Amazon or Yelp can seemingly make one arbitrary alteration to their course and plow straight into you. One change to the way rankings are calculated, the pricing of a specific item, or how an average review scores can lead to catastrophe.
The important thing to realize is that while you don’t have as much influence as you used to over how people find you, you still have a lot of control over the experience your customers have once they do.
Taking a close look at what that entails will show you how you can go the extra mile to get that referral engine started. If you think about it, that’s all that Google is trying to do when they tweak their rankings. They want users to find the content they are looking for as easily as possible and, while there are a lot of ways to game the system, the simplest way to get a higher ranking is to be the things Google is trying to find.
Things like backlinks, SEO-optimized content and mobile-friendly design — all of those tricks aren’t just to make you easier to find; they’re also to make it easier for readers to find and engage with what they’re looking for.
Deliver on your value proposition
The first place to look when you’re doing a customer experience audit is your value proposition. What promises are you making to draw people in, and are you delivering on those promises? Also, more importantly, what are those promises implying that you might not be aware of?
The differences between what you think you’re saying and what customers hear can be small, but they can really add up.
Take, for example, a wedding planner, whose main pitch is that they take care of everything. While they might have the perfect team — a great flower guy, a flawless cake girl, the perfect decorator, a genius photographer — the problem is that you do ultimately have to make some decisions for your own wedding. Even creating the guest list is a long and difficult series of compromises and negotiations.
It might not sound like such a great pitch, but the truth is, no wedding planner can literally do it all. But when the wedding planner’s clients are sitting down at the kitchen table for yet another late-night planning session, you can bet they’re thinking, “But they said they would take care of everything.” This shows how a seemingly simple value proposition can actually be making promises that you couldn’t possibly deliver on.
Manage expectations with your value proposition
When promoting your core value proposition, you need to find a way to manage expectations. Our wedding planner might do a little better if they had done so right from the start. Even changing their pitch from “We take care of everything,” to “We take care of the details so you can focus on what matters,” would go a long way toward anticipating this gap between what they’re saying in their marketing and what a customer expects.
The key here is to be clear about what you can deliver and what you can’t.
Making a big, bold statement might seem like persuasive marketing, but you need to take a closer look at what you’re promising and whether or not you can pull it off.
Bounce your pitch off as many people as you can, and ask them about what their expectations are based on what they hear. Make sure your questions are relatively open-ended, and pay close attention to what they say, especially if it surprises you.
One other way to manage customer experience expectations is to make some secondary promises that offset your primary value proposition. If you are promising to “Take care of everything,” but you also promise to “Make a night you’ll never forget,” then you can use that secondary promise as an excuse for why you need to have a meeting to talk about wedding invitations.
Build great processes
Ultimately, creating a great customer experience is about building great processes. You never realize just how many touch points you have with your customers until you sit down and map them out.
Little things that help you do your job — receipts or confirmation emails, for example — can add up to a lot of interactions. If you come across as robotic or run-of-the-mill, you’ve lost an opportunity to really stand out from the crowd.
This is especially important when you’re making a first impression with a new customer.
One way to do an audit of your touch points on the cheap is to pick out a customer to act as your guinea pig. Offer them a really generous care package, or some sort of special treatment, in return for giving you their thoughts about every interaction they have with your business in their first three months.
Focus on customer experience
With the growing independence of buyers who do their own research and have mostly come to a decision before they get in touch with your business, the key is to focus on what you can control. The truth is that most customers are motivated by referrals, recommendations and reviews, and the way to get those is to provide a superlative customer experience. By taking a close look at your value proposition, how you live up to it, and how you engage new customers at every touchpoint, you can take your business from good to great.