Small business owners have a challenging task when it comes to managing their companies’ customer experiences.
While larger companies invest millions and billions of dollars into shepherding customers through the buying experience, smaller companies are left to find their own way with limited time, restricted budgets, and a tiny staff.
Nevertheless, small businesses must tackle the issue of customer experience head-on if they want their company to have any kind of sustained success.
If you are a small business owner that is struggling to produce happy, satisfied customers, here are a few suggestions to help you shore up your customer experience without overtaxing your resources in the process.
Understanding omnichannel marketing
Before diving into the nitty-gritty ways to increase your online customer experience, it’s important to review and understand one term: omnichannel marketing.
This involves ensuring that every bit of your marketing is focused on the customer (rather than your products and services) in order to create a single, seamless customer experience.
For instance, if a customer learns about your business on Facebook, reads about your products on your company blog, places an order on your e-commerce store, and then picks it up in your brick-and-mortar location (and all of that takes place seamlessly), you’ve provided an omnichannel experience.
It is essential that you keep the concept of a single omnichannel experience in mind throughout your customer experience improvement efforts. Whether you are addressing marketing, e-commerce software, customer service, or anything else, it should all weave into the goal of enhancing the customer journey that you offer.
Cleaning up the different stages of the customer experience
Everyone has a different way to break down the customer journey. Some define eight or ten steps while others reduce the number to three large categories. In this case, we are going to address four different “stages” that the customer goes through as they interact with your brand:
- Discovery: This is the stage where the customer finds your brand.
- Engagement and persuasion: During this stage, the customer is “sold” on using your product.
- Purchase and delivery: This stage sees the customer purchases your product and have it delivered to them.
- Usage and support: In this final stage the customer uses the product or service, provides feedback, and is (or isn’t) supported after the point of purchase.
The e-commerce customer experience (and how to improve it) for each of the four stages are broken down below.
The discovery stage is where customers learn that you exist in the first place. Needless to say, this all-important first impression is critical. It will often make or break a consumer’s opinion of your brand.
As such, it is critical that you treat your primary discovery efforts, your marketing, as an investment rather than an expense or, even worse, a bother. It can be difficult to prioritize marketing when you are dealing with a small business’s limited resources, but there are quite a few ways that you can put your best foot forward:
- Create quality content: Starting a company blog and investing in information-filled articles is a great way to market on the cheap.
- Build a community: This involves using social media or your email list (or both) to build customer loyalty and provide repeat business, thus standing as a testament to your quality service.
- Collaborate with influencers: Working with influencers can provide an affordable way to access potential customers.
As you invest in affordable, quality marketing options, it will entice consumers to take the next step on the customer journey.
2. Engagement and persuasion
In this stage, the goal is to demonstrate to customers that:
- You are an authority in your industry.
- You empathize with their problem.
- You know of solutions to their problem.
- Your company’s solution is the best option for them.
There are many ways to improve the customer experience throughout this stage. For instance, you can:
- Make customer support easily available and responsive to the front end of the purchasing process to answer questions and provide help.
- Ensure that your website is laid out in an easy to navigate, streamlined manner that gently directs customers towards making a purchase.
- Train customer service representatives to provide information about products and services as well as troubleshooting.
- Reduce your website’s loading time as much as possible.
Perfecting the customer experience is a critical step as you engage with customers and persuade them to patronize your business.
3. Purchase and fulfillment
Once a consumer is convinced that you are the best solution to their problem, they still have to go through the process of purchasing and receiving your products or services.
Ways that you can improve this experience include:
- Streamlining your supply chain management: Make sure you have a Supply Chain Manager who can help to boost customer service by personally overseeing the processing of each order.
- Laying out a clear path for customers to select products and checkout: If this is a complicated process, they may give up partway through the process. An extra step you can take in this process is to create a stand-alone app that integrates loyalty points. This both eases purchases and automates loyalty building.
- Ensuring you fulfill all after-purchase promises: Only promise delivery times and options that you can easily and consistently achieve and keep the customer in the know about their order status.
Providing a smooth, informative purchase and fulfillment experience is not only important for the customer experience, but it is also the key to cultivating customer loyalty, repeat business, and word-of-mouth marketing.
4. Usage and support
Finally, there is a usage and support stage. Here the customer uses the product or service and may need customer support.
The crucial part of this process (especially in regards to the customer journey) is to provide high-quality customer service. No matter what problems may arise, if your customer service goes above and beyond, it will help you avoid negative reviews. You can improve your customer service by:
- Thoroughly training customer service reps to be helpful and personable.
- Making customer service easily accessible and responsive.
- Actively reaching out to customers to ensure that they are satisfied with their purchase.
- Asking for honest reviews from customers.
- Addressing negative feedback.
If you maintain a solid after-purchase customer experience, you’ll develop loyal customers and establish your brand as a quality solution within your industry — which also happens to feed right into your marketing and discovery phase, starting the cycle all over again.
On the other side of the coin, if you do get a negative review, it is possible to turn the experience into a positive one for you and the customer. Respond to the review as quickly as you can — but not so quickly that you respond without doing so thoughtfully.
If there is more than one, don’t use a canned response for them. Answer each personally, and if you have to, take the conversations offline. In the long run, this kind of care can lead to a positive return.
Improving your customer journey from beginning to end
As a small business, it can be difficult addressing something as vague as the customer journey. However, that doesn’t change the enormous impact that improving your customers’ experience can have on your bottom line.
If you can go through the four stages of your business’ customer journey and proactively improve the experience, it can provide you with a healthy e-commerce business structure that is able to succeed for years into the future.
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Ainsley Lawrence is a writer who loves to talk about good health, balanced life, and better living through technology. She is frequently lost in a good book.