Without customers, your genius, innovative, and potentially millionaire dollar idea is worthless. That may sound harsh. But, that’s just reality. Your customers are the lifeblood of your business. And, as such, you need to do everything to improve the customer experience.

What exactly is the customer experience?

I’m glad you asked. Forrester Research defines customer experience, also known as CX, as, “How customers perceive their interactions with your company.” That includes the first impression you’ve made with them to becoming a happy and satisfied lifelong advocate.”

To put that more directly, if customers have positive experiences with your company, the more likely they’ll come back for more. They may even begin to refer your business to others because you’re so awesome.

What’s more, studies show that consumers are more willing to pay more for a better experience. So far, this sounds like a win-win.

Isn’t the CX the same thing as customer service?

Not exactly. Customer service is just one part of CX.

That may sound confusing. But, think of it this way. You take your car to the maniac to get it fixed. Everyone at the shop is pleasant, and it was painless scheduling an appointment. However, when you pick your vehicle up, the problem wasn’t fixed. And, to make matters worse, they overcharged you.

Even though the customer service aspect was outstanding, the experience overall was terrible. But, if the mechanic fixed your car faster and cheaper then quoted, you would have a stellar customer experience.

Hopefully, that clears up the difference. Now, let’s explore nine ways that you can make the customer experience better.

9 Ways to Improve Your Customer Experience

1. Create a clear customer experience vision.

If you genuinely want to deliver an exceptional customer experience, then you first need to have a clear customer-focused vision. Besides providing you with a road map on where to go, these guiding principles are communicated with your team so that everyone is on board.

For example, Zappos has embedded its core values among its team. The result? The company has earned a positive reputation for fulfilling and wowing customer expectations.

If you’re stuck, McKinsey recommends answering the following key questions:

  • What is a company’s appetite for change in the near term? Is the goal to change the customer experience fundamentally or simply to improve it at the margins?
  • What is the gap between the needs and wants of customers and what they actually experience?
  • How can the company gain a customer-experience advantage against competitors?
  • At which point in the experience, should the company concentrate on having a real impact?
  • How do the overall capabilities of the staff support the customer experience the company wants to provide?

“One caveat: it is easy to err by aiming too low. In our experience, looking at historical performance and at whatever helped satisfy customers in the past can often make marginal tweaks seem good enough,” add Brooke Boyarsky, Will Enger, and Ron Ritter. “Understanding the fundamental wants and needs of customers must be a step in determining what a great experience for them should look like.”

That may seem like a lot to absorb. But, Robert Spector put it best. “Don’t reinvent the wheel. Focus on winning one customer at a time. Be honest and sincere. Do what’s right. There’s nothing magical about this. That’s been my guiding principle. To make it work, you have to live it every day. Make it your mindset.”

2. Get to know your customers.

“The most valuable resource you can give customers is your time. Listen to them to uncover their real needs. Only then can you find a way to solve their problems or meet their expectations. Treat the cause, not just the symptoms.” — Ginger Conlon

I would think that you already know who your customers are. At the minimum, you should have information like their age, gender, geographical location, and possibly even their income. But, you should also beware of their hobbies and interests.

While undoubtedly useful, you need to go above and beyond by really getting to know your customers. It’s the only way that you’ll understand what their wants and needs are, as well as what motivates them. From there, you can segment them and create buyer personas. In turn, this will help you connect with them by empathizing with them or creating more personalized experiences.

Sam Walton used to do this by having face-to-face conversations with Walmart customers — either at restaurants or in the parking lot. That might not be an option nowadays. But, you could survey your customers through email, your website, or even good old direct mail.

You could also use historical data, like past purchases, and analytics. For example, which channels are driving the most traffic to your site or which features of product customers are engaging with the most.

3. Audit the customer experience from multiple internal perspectives.

“Since the customer journey is affected by every facet of your business, you mustn’t focus on only one department when conducting an audit of customer experience,” writes Clint Fontanella for HubSpot. After all, “customers interact in some way with every part of your business, so to gain a complete picture of CX, you will need to consider the unique perspective of each one of your internal departments.”

In most cases, this would involve the following three:

  • Marketing. Because they are focused on customer acquisition, “they will have the best insight into brand awareness and user expectations.”
  • Sales. These team members are key players during the early part of the customer journey. As such, they “have information on the challenges that customers are encountering daily and how they expect your product or service to address those roadblocks.”
  • Customer service. Because they interact with your customers most frequently, they are most knowledgeable in identifying the pain points of your customers.

4. Leverage AI and machine learning.

Gartner predicted that by 2020, virtual agents, think chatbots, will manage 85% of customer interactions. Does that mean that you should solely rely on technology when it comes to interacting with customers? Of course. When it comes to more complex issues, customers always prefer human interaction.

However, a majority of people will always choose chatbots if it saves them ten minutes. What’s more, chatbots can be to:

  • Provide 24/7 service.
  • Answers simple questions quickly.
  • Can educate potential customers on the products or services you offer.
  • Assist reps by providing them with essential information like your name and problem os that the customer isn’t repeating themselves.
  • AI and machine learning can review past behavior to help with predictive personalization and smart suggestions.

5. Forget regular “business hours.”

As just mentioned, technology can be used to deliver 24/7 customer service. That’s great when someone wants to ask a question or resolve a complainant promptly. But what about more complex issues?

For example, let’s say that you’re on a business trip. As you’re eating breakfast, you spill coffee on your dress shirt. Here’s the problem. It’s 8 a.m., you don’t have any other shirts, and the meeting starts in an hour. No way can get the shirt cleaned and pressed in-time. And, most stores aren’t open.

However, what if there was only one store in town that was? Because that saved your day, you’ll probably become a loyal supporter of that establishment. Even better, you’ll want to steer as many people as you can in their direction.

6. Deliver an omnichannel experience.

As defined by TechTarget, this “is a multichannel approach to sales that seeks to provide customers with a seamless shopping experience, whether they’re shopping online from a desktop or mobile device, by telephone, or in a brick-and-mortar store.”

For example, you could welcome new customers with a discount on both SMS and email, signs-up for Facebook messenger updates, or can store online cart items on both their desktop and app.

Other examples would be Bank of America’s app that allows users to deposit checks and schedule appointments. And, there’s the Starbucks loyalty reward program. Even though it’s an app, users can add money via the app, website, or in-store.

7. Let customers help themselves.

As already mentioned, customers demand speed — hence why they’ve embraced chatbots. However, before interacting with a bot, their preferred choice is self-service. 70% of customers expect websites to include a self-service application. What’s more, 73% of customers prefer using a company’s site over live chat, social media, or SMS.

How can you make this a thing? Well, determine what your customer’s most common questions are so that they can be answered on the FAQ section of your site. Also, because most people tend to be visual learners, use images like screenshots and tutorial videos as much as possible.

Moreover, make sure that your search field is easy to use. For instance, using tags for specific keywords so that they aren’t scouring through hundreds of pages. And definitely make sure that your self-service portals have been optimized for mobile users.

8. Build a customer-centric culture.

If you want to successfully adopt customer-centricity, which is something only 14% of marketers have said is a hallmark of their company. You need to build a customer-centric culture. And, according to Denise Lee Yohn over at HBR, you can do so by:

  • Instilling empathy as a universal value.
  • When hiring, gauge potential employees, their customer orientation.
  • Democratize customer insights so that everyone has access to crucial information.
  • Encourage direct interaction with customers.
  • Keep your team happy and satisfied. If they feel good about your company, so will customers. As Shep Hyken pit it, “If we consistently exceed the expectations of employees, they will consistently exceed the expectations of our customers.”
  • Tie compensation to the customer.

9. Measure, optimize, repeat.

Finally, it’s essential to know that making your customer experience better is an ongoing process. Track metrics and continually seek out feedback and data on how to improve. Most importantly, make sure that you follow through and repeat what has worked.