The frenzy of the holiday shopping season is over and consumers are taking a collective breath. They’re focusing on their New Year’s resolutions and settling back into normal routines at home, work and school.
But for you, the small- and medium-sized business (SMB) owner, the real work is just beginning. Everything you did to create the best possible customer experience and build customer loyalty during the holiday season was just the first step to a successful 2015. Earning customer loyalty demands a constant focus on the customer experience.
Small Businesses Confident About the Future
Each year, we survey thousands of SMBs worldwide to learn about their outlook and challenges in three areas: their prospects (i.e. business opportunities for revenue), their country’s economy, and the global economy. This data serves as the foundation for our annual Sage Business Index report, and the 2014 edition paints the most positive picture we’ve seen in years.
U.S. businesses feel more optimistic about their own prospects than they have in four years, with confidence rising 2.88 points to 67.53 (out of 100 points) in the last year. Confidence in the local economy is also improving, climbing 0.42 to a four-year high of 53.22 points.
This rise in confidence is reflected in businesses’ predictions for 2015. The majority of businesses (58 percent) anticipate their revenue will grow by an average of 3.1 percent in the next year—above the global average of 2.5 percent. Forty-four percent of respondents say their number of employees will also increase in the same time period, by an average of 2.5 people.
What’s very interesting to me, though, is that only about a third of respondents cite “increasing customer loyalty” as a key component of their businesses growth plans. I think that number should be much higher.
Listen, Act and Measure to Increase Loyalty
A positive customer experience—one that drives people to return to you and prompts them to become advocates for you across their social media platforms—is a requirement, not a luxury, in 2015. In order to increase customer loyalty, focus on the following:
Listen to your customers
Customer understanding enables your company to create and maintain a clear, consistent, and accurate picture of target customers and the experiences they want, even in the face of changing customer expectations. Do you know your customers? You should know their current challenges, worries and aspirations, and how they feel about you, your product and your service. What frustrates them about you? Why do they buy from you? Is it what you sell, what you do, how you do it or why you do it? Failure to listen could quickly turn loyal customers into unhappy ones who leave you for competitors.
Act on what you’ve learned
Understanding your customers’ business goals and priorities can help you align your products and services appropriately with them. So many companies spend time and money to create policy and procedure, only to miss the mark on execution. These five steps can help you sustain a customer-centric culture:
- Secure executive support.
- Build a customer experience team to lead the transformation.
- Create a shared understanding of the intended experience.
- Rally and align all employees to the cultural transformation.
- Embed customer experience principles into the organization.
Thorough training on customer focus is crucial. Find the little things that make sense for you, your team and your customers—whether it’s a “thank you” call, a personal handwritten note, an effort to share relevant information about an upcoming government policy change that will impact your customers.
If you’re doing something that irritates your customers, then stop doing it.
And make proactive and regular communication a priority. If you know about a problem or defect with your product or service, inform your customers right away. Keep track of customers’ preferred communication methods and know timeframes and dates to avoid.
Measure the outcomes.
It’s important to have a measurement practice to ensure continuous improvement. Once you have the information, analyze it in great detail and make decisions based on what you’ve learned. Incorporate the findings into product or service design plans and take them into consideration when developing policies and procedures.
Happy customers become loyal customers—who not only return to your doors, website and smartphone app, but also bring their family and friends with them. Don’t let all of the time and effort you devoted to creating a superior customer experience during the holiday season go to waste.
Implement a long-term plan for training and incentivizing employees, and leverage the customer data you’ve been collecting to maintain, and even improve, a superior year-round experience for your customers.