If you’re working on a business plan and getting ready to start a business, you’ve thought about why people might prefer your products or services over those offered by competitors.
But if your go-to-market plan focuses primarily on features, you’ll struggle to grow your business.
Experienced business owners and entrepreneurs know that focusing solely on selling a product or service to a customer doesn’t cut it anymore.
To succeed, your business must start thinking of customers as long-term investments instead of one-off sales.
Mark Bonchek, Founder and CEO of Shift Thinking, and Vivek Bapat, SVP and Head of Marketing and Communications Strategy at SAP, call these two types of companies “purchase brands” and “usage brands.”
“Purchase (or business as usual) brands” are motivated to make the sale. “Usage brands” are driven to prioritize their customer’s experience after the sale.
Bonchek and Bapat explain,
Where traditional brands focus on positioning their brands in the minds of their customers, digital brands focus on positioning their brands in the lives of their customers. Furthermore, they engage customers more as users than as buyers, shifting their investments from pre-purchase promotion and sales to post-purchase renewal and advocacy.
Here are four ways your small business or startup can build a great customer experience, create loyal customers, and accelerate growth.
1. Look beyond the sales funnel
Ready to position your brand in your customers’ lives?
Look beyond the sales funnel.
Building a long-term relationship with customers and prospects relies on creating a worthwhile experience for them – not on tricking them into giving you their money.
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Putting the customer experience first has clear benefits for the customer.
But does it benefit your business?
Research shows that investing in existing customers is more cost-effective than constantly acquiring new ones. According to RJMetrics:
While only 32% of first purchases will make a second purchase, 53% of customers that make a second purchase will make a third. And with each successive purchase, the likelihood of them coming back increases.
Those numbers are compelling. Existing and return customers bring profit and stability to a business.
By shifting your business’s mindset toward positioning your service or product in consumers’ lives, you stand to tap into a vast source of reliable revenue.
And, focusing on existing or repeat customers is less expensive than concentrating most of your time trying to find new customers, as we pointed out previously:
It’s 5-25 times less expensive to maintain relationships with current customers than to acquire new customers.
That doesn’t mean that you should stop seeking new customers.
But, it does mean that you should evaluate how much time your business spends trying to get new customers vs. building stronger relationships with the ones it already has.
Working to maintain relationships with existing customers helps you to offset the higher cost of new customer acquisition.
Bapat and Bonchek’s research shows that there are additional benefits to creating a great experience for existing customers:
The benefits of shifting from purchase to usage are reinforced by our research. Survey respondents show more loyalty to usage brands. They had stronger advocacy in the form of spontaneous recommendations to others. And they showed a higher preference for usage brands over competitors, not just in making the purchase but in a willingness to pay a premium in price.
No matter how you look at it, prioritizing existing customers is a win. And, the best way to maintain positive relationships with existing customers is to improve their experience.
2. Optimize your product or service to deliver a great overall experience
Your number one priority should be to deliver a quality product or service.
An inferior product or service experience will ultimately undermine your efforts to build long-term customer relationships.
No one wants to spend money on bad products or services. And, they won’t do it twice.
So make sure your product or service delivers an excellent user experience.
Here are essential questions to help you start assessing your product or service:
- Do your products or services do what they claim to do?
- Do your products or services do this well?
- Is your product or service easy to use?
- Is your service effective and well-executed?
- Is your product or service timely?
- Is your product or service convenient?
The answer to all of these questions should be a resounding “YES!”
If not, then it’s time to fix what isn’t working.
But remember that the customer experience doesn’t end when a customer buys a product or service.
Your service or product sits in the middle of a web of other peripherals that make up the complete user experience.
The shipping or scheduling process, the product packaging, the demeanor of the service technician at your door or support representative on the phone, the refund policy, return shipping… All of these and more make up the complete user experience.
If you genuinely want to embed your brand into your customers’ lives, you need to do a friction-check on all of these processes.
Every aspect of the user experience should be as effortless as possible and a pleasure to experience.
Ensure that you have a memorable visual identity for your business, including a professionally designed custom logo, not a generic template used by thousands of other companies.
Create a visually attractive and easy-to-use business website with a clean user interface and easy navigation.
Make placing an order or scheduling a service even more effortless.
Prominently display contact information for your customer support team.
Make shipping and returns free.
Accept multiple forms of payment. And allow customers to store their payment info on your site so they don’t need to re-enter it every time they want to make a purchase.
Think through every customer touch-point and make it as pleasant as possible. Removing peripheral friction removes the motivation to look elsewhere for a better product or service.
3. Keep the user experience fresh and interesting
Maintaining long-term clients or customers requires commitment and constant work.
Boredom is the enemy.
Now, it’s true that your brand should remain reliable and consistent. But, there’s plenty of room to play within your brand’s guidelines to keep your customer interactions fresh and exciting.
Small business champion and professional coach Deborah Shane explains:
It’s all about the experience we create and have with people and companies we interact with. Make sure you are refreshing your sites, visuals, marketing materials and presentation. We all love things that are new, but putting a different spin on something we already do can stimulate people too. Make things easy to follow, entertaining and culturally relevant.
Update your blog content regularly to provide a constant stream of valuable, useful content.
Host sales, share stories and engage in charitable endeavors on social media to build and strengthen customer relationships.
Introduce fresh new marketing content to keep customers engaged and interested.
And do it all with your brand voice.
Serving up new content and visuals throughout your marketing platforms will prevent customers from getting bored- all while reinforcing the brand identity they’ve come to know and love.
Time for an upgrade?
If you’re invested in positioning your brand in your customer’s lives, look for opportunities to keep your product or service experience fresh as well.
You may also want to consider offering an upgrade to long-term customers.
Social media and content marketer Mike Bal advises:
If some of your customers are actively and openly engaging with your brand on a regular basis, they’re the best possible people to give the full experience. If you have a product line, send them something they haven’t tried. If you have a premium service, give them the upgrade for free. The actual cost to you is miniscule compared with the impact those customers will have on their friends, family, colleagues, and social followers.
Your product or service is the core of your business. And, while the packaging and peripherals are essential, they’re not why your customers are there.
Inspire customers to stick around by improving that core experience they’ve already come to love. Or, offer an upgrade that will give them an all-new reason to love and rely on your brand.
But, make sure that the upgrade you offer is relevant to your customer and offers real value.
For instance, offer powdered sugar and fruit on the already delectable stack of pancakes they’ve come to expect.
4. Invite customers behind the curtain
Honest and authentic interactions inspire confidence and trust.
This is true in all aspects of life – including business.
Give your customers access to learn what’s going on in your business. And allow them to influence the path your business takes for the better.
This “insider access” will inspire trust and personal investment in your brand.
Listen to customer suggestions & give credit when due
A fantastic way to keep your customers engaged with your brand is to make them an active part of it.
Heeding customer advice is likely to improve your service or product for all customers.
Better yet, give your customers credit when you follow their suggestions. This will benefit your brand in several ways:
- It will make the lucky customer whom you’ve featured feel great. And those warm fuzzies are likely to improve their loyalty.
- Crediting customers for their contributions will show other customers that you genuinely value their thoughts and feedback. This will build trust and goodwill for your brand.
- Publicly acting on customer feedback will encourage other customers to engage with your brand to offer you more valuable suggestions.
Allowing your customers to influence your brand gives them a sense of ownership. This, in turn, builds loyalty and customer investment in your brand.
So, let your customers in.
Keep customers updated
Is something new and exciting happening in your company? Tell your customers about it!
We don’t mean you should tell them about your current sale. It would be best if you did that too.
We’re talking about sharing an innovation or policy that will improve the user experience.
Many consumers (Millennials, in particular) don’t trust slick corporate facades. They want to know what’s going on behind the scenes.
Sharing news about your company’s internal workings helps to sweep back the curtain.
It’s great to share news about the positive changes your brand is making. And it’s also important to be upfront when something goes wrong.
Being honest about a short-coming (and also sharing how you plan to fix the issue) will show that your business has integrity and can be trusted in the consumer’s life.
Build an honest, genuine connection with your customers, and you’ll earn a place in their lives.
Your business should always look to the future.
And the future of your business is all about your customers.
Your business can build a stable financial future by creating strong relationships with the customers it has today.
How can you better position your brand in your customer’s lives instead of only focusing on making the sale?