Navigating the Customer Experience as a Small Business

Navigating the Customer Experience as a Small Business

By Ron Wagner

If there’s one perception many small business owners wish they could change, it’s the notion that their business is small. It’s their business, and it is of paramount importance to them. At the same time, smaller businesses don’t typically have as many resources at their fingertips as others—but that doesn’t mean they should take a backseat in the race to acquire and retain customers. If anything, they need to push harder and become even more customer-centric than their competitors. It all comes down to building great experiences that build great brands.

Customer experience, or CX, applies to every business on the planet, regardless of size. While a global enterprise’s approach to CX will look and feel different than that of a slightly smaller business, understanding (and serving) customers should be as much of a priority for small, family-owned or independent companies as it is for today’s leading brands.

Why is CX Important?

If investing in CX sounds more like a nice-to-have than a must-have, consider how much of a premium consumers place on experience: Research shows that in the U.S., even when people love a company or product, 59% will walk away after several bad experiences. Globally, 32% of all customers would stop doing business with a brand they loved after just one bad experience.

But it’s not all doom and gloom, as 77% of consumers are willing to pay more if they receive excellent customer service specifically from small businesses. Not only are they open to paying more, customers are more willing to travel further for the products or services they trust, forgive mistakes when a familiar brand makes them, and advocate and evangelize for companies that deliver great experiences.

Here are a few ways to build trust by building a customer-centric brand.

Tell Your Story: Build a Brand That “Connects” and Customers Want to Support

Invest time in making it clear why your business exists and how it helps solve problems for your customers. People will travel further, pay more and give greater consideration to brands and products they want. Case in point: 91% of the time, customers will shop at small businesses when convenient, and 74% seek ways to support small businesses even if they have to go out of their way to do so. Brands are built on emotional connections, and if you can create a brand that tells its story well and taps into that emotional connection, you’ll foster long-standing customer relationships, lasting value and guaranteed revenue … regardless of the size of your company.

Empower Your People: They are the Core of Your Business

Before you build, refine or even redefine your company, it’s crucial to make the distinction between your product or service and your brand. Both small and large businesses begin with a great product or service, but it has to be supported by people who care and believe in helping customers solve problems. If business owners encourage their employees to do their best to resolve issues quickly and efficiently, this signals to customers that the company trusts their employees and values their customers.

This is the bedrock of a solid customer-centric organization. And it’s what will transform buyers into repeat customers who go out of their way to support your brand—even when it’s not always “convenient.”

Stay Close to Your Customer: Understand What’s Important to Them

If you’re anything like most businesses that may be a bit smaller than their competitors, you rely on a carefully crafted budget in order to stay profitable. Some leaders shy away from exploring customer experience optimization because they fear the cost. But the best CX programs aren’t effective because they’re expensive; they work because the organizations that use them took the time to understand the market, conduct customer research and make key strategic decisions based on hard data. This allows them to outsmart, rather than outspend, the competition.

Investing in research, however, can be an expensive investment. Independent businesses seeking customer insights without the price tag have a few options: Google reviews, or online reviews in general, can be valuable tools for gauging how your brand is perceived in the market. Email outreach is another way to stay close to your customer, solicit feedback and show buyers that you have a vested interest in their interests.

Help Vs. Sell: Put Your Customer in the Driver’s Seat

Human beings are hardwired to seek control, because control gives us a sense of safety and security. When we feel that others are in a position of power over us, it creates discomfort. For example, do you know that uncomfortable feeling when you’re sitting in a car dealership while your sales representative is in the office with their sales manager debating the price? It’s one of the more stressful consumer experiences; the industry refers to it as keeping customers “in the box.” You have no control.

Successful brands put their customers in the driver’s seat—they advise, instead of dictate. Your role isn’t to tell customers what to do, but to help them understand their options and answer their questions. By transferring knowledge rather than forcing sales, you’re putting customers in a position to make empowered decisions.

Whether they’re shopping small or going big, buying B2B or B2C, customers engage in a certain amount of personal risk when making a purchase, and they don’t want to make mistakes. Don’t try to sell them, but rather try to help them buy by showing them options, being transparent and showing total value. This builds the trust that leads to connection that ultimately leads to brand loyalty.

It may sound daunting, but by taking an incremental, scalable approach, you can improve the customer experience without upending your operations or straining your resources. With a strategic plan in place, you can create a better CX while building a brand that stands up and stands out.

Stay tuned for our next article on the tools and tactics you can apply to enhance the experience your customers have when interacting with your small business.