Small business managers know better than anyone that growth and success in a crowded marketplace require taking advantage of every opportunity to extend their company's brand. These days, that means competing with much larger businesses by adopting a multichannel sales and marketing approach. That strategy can be a complex undertaking though and can do serious harm if executed poorly.
The principal challenge that small businesses face when expanding their reach online is to make sure that the customer experience they're creating is consistent and uniform at every touchpoint along the customer journey. Failure to do so creates a muddled and frustrating experience for customers, which they're not likely to want to repeat. Getting it right, though, tends to increase brand loyalty and drive growth. Here's how you can do just that.
Understanding the customer
When seeking to create a consistent customer experience, one first must understand the customer. This obvious truism is overlooked more often than you might imagine. For established brick-and-mortar businesses, some of the required legwork in this area should already be done. Begin by defining your target market and building a complete picture of how customers relate to your brand.
Existing customers are an excellent place to start. Encouraging customer feedback through incentivized surveys, phone contact, and in-store displays will help you to gather a wealth of information about how and why your customers choose your brand. Use the data to discern the patterns that reveal the wants, needs, and desires of your customers. The results of the effort will provide guidelines for all future planning.
Start with customer service
Chances are, one of the most important things that you will discover through your customer feedback efforts is the fact that customer service is of paramount importance. Surveys indicate that as many as 78 percent of consumers consider a company's reputation for customer service when choosing a brand and that 64 percent expect to have access to real-time customer service no matter what channel they engage a business through.
To ensure the needed consistency across all customer service channels, you must create a guide for employees to follow in all of their customer interactions. It should begin with standardized greetings and include a precise list of customer information to be collected. If there are any support topics that frequently arise, include specific answers within the guide so that customers will always be given the right response. These baselines should be applied to email, phone, live chat, and in-person contacts with customers. If, for whatever reason, you can’t assemble the team that’s up to your standards, consider outsourcing. This can be an especially good idea if your product or a service is exported to a place that has different language or culture. Tailor your customer service to a customer, not vice versa.
Create coherent messaging
The next important step in ensuring consistent customer experiences is to create a unified messaging strategy. In practice, this means that all customer outreach efforts must be tuned to complement one another. To begin with, all messaging must:
- Adhere to all branding standards like color scheme, logo, and style
- Be oriented to improve the customer relationship, not just drive sales
- Contain the same promotions, guarantees, and offers regardless of channel
Next, it's time to decide on your precise brand message and send it out through all available channels, such as social media accounts, print advertising, websites, and live events. Apple, Inc. is an excellent example of this type of coherent messaging. They're so good at it, in fact, that you'll find news outlets parroting their messaging time and again. This is a key aspect of creating a consistent experience for your customers; if you get good enough at it, you can shape perceptions about your brand far beyond your customer base.
Pay attention to details
When designing your online presence, you'll need to make sure that you create seamless pathways between your digital assets and physical locations. For example, returns should be possible through all channels, regardless of the origin of the initial transaction. This is a key advantage that brick-and-mortar businesses have over their online-only competition, and it should be extended to the greatest degree possible. For proof, look no further than Walmart, who are using this concept to great effect in their ongoing duel with Amazon.
In addition to smoothing the way between online and offline channels, attention must be paid to the interactions between online platforms such as websites, email, and apps. This is actually one of the easier (and most impressive) ways to create user experience consistency since online platforms often contain similar elements that may be synchronized. As the world's largest online retailer, Amazon excels at this.
Think about your last interaction with the online giant. Your shopping cart carried over between their website and app, and you received an email in short order about your purchase or the category you'd browsed. Then, you started to see targeted advertising based on your activity while using their site. Adopting even a small portion of this methodology could enhance any company's overall customer experience consistency.
Revise and adapt
Once you've done all of the work required to create a seamless experience across all of your sales channels, be ready to make changes as necessary. This is the most important point of all. Remember that your customers will have a constantly evolving set of needs and expectations and that it's up to you to make sure that you're meeting them. Never stop soliciting feedback from your customers; they will let you know what is working and what isn't. Make every effort to maintain enough flexibility to be able to adapt on the fly. If your customers find value in your well-oiled machine, they will reward you with years of loyalty, and the kind of organic word-of-mouth advertising that no amount of money can buy.
Philip Piletic's primary focus is a fusion of technology, small business, and marketing. He is an editor, writer, marketing consultant, and guest author at several authority websites. He’d like to thank Deal on the Web for their help with this article.