If you want to build a sales cycle based on long-term customer loyalty, you need to strike the right balance between efficient productivity and personal customer care. Follow these four expert small business tips to slow down your customers' experience in all the right places.
4 Small Business Tips to Improve the Customer Experience
1. Focus on the "moment of truth"
Researchers from Bain & Company examined customer experience surveys from more than 97,000 account holders in North America to learn why, in an age of ATMs and online banking, so many of us still choose to visit our neighborhood tellers. According to their results, and more than 5,000 follow-up interviews, we crave personal connections at what Bain calls "moments of truth."
These make-or-break moments -- replacing a lost credit card, processing an urgent bill payment, or just providing a receipt for a cash deposit -- frame a customer's entire perception of a brand.
2. Automate the interview, not the experience
Thanks to sophisticated customer relationship management (CRM) tools, we know more than ever about our customers and our prospects. However, an Information Technology Intelligence Consulting (ITIC) survey revealed that most companies use only about half of their customer relationship management system's functionality. Bain and ITIC researchers agree: complex CRM requirements at a "moment of truth" can sour a customer's experience.
For instance, if a customer service agent asks for an account number right after an automated attendant asks you to key it in, you'll probably get frustrated. In addition to ensuring that all of your systems "talk to each other," you can ask customers to complete more detailed profiles at less urgent times. That way, when your customer needs you in a crisis, your CRM data can help you skip directly to the most compelling part of your interaction.
3. Understand why customers seek your guidance
Novice sales professionals love warm leads from customers who call up, asking about specific product features. According to Drew Zarges from Sales Benchmark Index, speeding through the sale can pit you against competitors who want to undercut your proposal based just on those features.
Instead, Zarges says, effective sales professionals use a discovery process to uncover where a prospect really stands in his or her purchasing cycle. Suggesting a few stopgap measures on the way to a broader solution may not help you make this quarter's sales goal, but it can help you build the kind of trust that lands far larger deals while insulating your brand from competition.
4. Extend the experience beyond the sale
Customer service surveys don't just offer managers insight into team performance. They help customers relive the best part of their recent experiences. Online games, social media posts and informational newsletters all enhance customer perceptions of your business, especially if they don't contain too much sales-related content. This classic branding strategy helps you maintain top-of-mind awareness at the lowest points in your customer's purchasing cycle.
Interviewing your customers through surveys or simple conversations can reveal the elements of your business that you can safely speed up, and the "moments of truth" that require your attention and your resources. Build your team's ability to understand customer needs and motivations, and enjoy enough loyalty to justify the right inefficiencies.
Joe Taylor Jr. has covered personal finance and business for more than two decades. His work has been featured on NPR, CNBC, Financial Times Television, Fox Business, and ABC News. He recently completed a personal finance book entitled The Rogue Guide to Credit Cards; (Rogue Guide Books, 2012).
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