How (and Why) to Develop a Winning Customer Experience Strategy for Your Business
Now more than ever before, the happiness of your past, current, and future customers matters. For your ecommerce brand to succeed, sustain, and grow over time, you have to make customer service, customer support, and customer experience a priority. Here are some reasons why, as shared by Help Scout:
- Americans tell an average of 15 people about a poor service experience, versus the 11 people they’ll tell about a good experience.
- 33% of Americans say they’ll consider switching companies after just a single instance of poor service.
- U.S. companies lose more than $62 billion annually due to poor customer service.
- U.S. consumers are willing to spend 17% more to do business with companies that deliver excellent service, up from 14% in 2014.
In this article, I’ll help you understand what customer experience actually is, why it matters, and how to develop a winning strategy for your ecommerce business.
I’ll wrap up by offering a few resources that you might find useful as you work to invest in and improve customer experience for your online store.
Let’s dig in.
What is Customer Experience?
Before you can develop a winning customer experience strategy for your business, you first need to understand what customer experience is and how it can play a role in the success or failure of your ecommerce store.
Here’s how I define customer experience as it relates to the ecommerce industry:
Customer experience is the perception people have about your brand and products based on their personal interaction, research, and ongoing relationship with you. This perception ultimately influences future purchasing behavior, word of mouth, and brand loyalty.
Customer experience isn’t just about a single interaction that your customers have with you. It doesn’t start and end with the purchase. Instead, it’s always on—the perception that your past, current, and future customers have about you are always being impacted by a number of factors—factors that are both inside and outside of your control.
Factors that are in your control are things like your unboxing experience, your commitment to providing stellar customer support, the ordering process you take your customers through when they purchase products on your website, and your willingness to delight customers at every turn,
Factors that are outside your control—at least initially—are things like reviews and write-ups from unhappy customers or bloggers, marketing campaigns and growth efforts from competitors, and local delivery issues that your customers might experience after you ship your products to them.
As a business owner, it’s your job to proactively manage the perception that people have about your brand, your products, and your team. That’s what developing a customer experience strategy is all about—being proactive and doing everything you can to convince people that buying from you is different than buying from other ecommerce businesses.
But why does it matter? Let’s spend the next section taking a look at some of the facts.
Why Does Customer Experience Matter?
Saying that customer experience matters is one thing, but how do you really know whether it can have an impact on your business or not? What facts are out there that can support this argument?
Here’s what I’ve learned:
- People aren’t afraid to talk about the negative experiences they have with companies with their friends and in public forums like Facebook. According to Help Scout, “Americans tell an average of 15 people about a poor service experience, versus the 11 people they’ll tell about a good experience.”
- People will pay more for better customer experience. According to Help Scout, “when it comes to making a purchase, 64% of people find customer experience more important than price.”
- Your competitors are probably already actively working to provide a better experience to customers than they think you can provide. According to Forrester, “72% of businesses say that improving the customer experience is their top priority.”
- Customer experience can lead to loyalty, and loyalty can lead to more profits. According to Shopify, “the probability of converting a new customer falls in the 5% to 20% range; for existing customers, it’s between 60% and 70%.”
Boosting profits, competing with other businesses in your product category, building loyalty with existing customers—these are all areas that can be optimized with the help of a solid customer experience strategy. The question is, how do you get started?
How to Develop a Winning Customer Experience Strategy
To provide an unmatched level of experience to your customers, and to get any sort of ROI from customer experience as a whole, you need to have a clear strategy in place. As you may have noticed, customer experience is a pretty broad concept. It can encompass a lot of things and span across a lot of areas.
The customer experience strategy you ultimately build and implement for your business will and should look different than the strategies put in place by your competitors, and that’s a good thing. No customer experience strategy should look alike. There is no cookie cutter approach that will guarantee success. Instead, each strategy looks a little bit different depending on a number of factors, such as audience, budget, product category, team resources, and other areas that vary from business to business.
So how do you create the right customer experience strategy for your business—a strategy that will pay off now and far into the future? Here are 9 tips to help put you on the right track:
1. Map The Customer Journey – The best first step you can take when deciding to invest more time and energy into your customer experience strategy is to map out your customer journey from beginning to end. The customer journey is the route that someone takes when purchasing a product from you. It starts with them not knowing your products or your company, and never actually really ends—it just moves into an ongoing phase of nurturing/loyalty/repeat purchasing.
To map out your true customer journey, try to answer these questions:
- How do your prospective customers discover you today? How do they become aware of you? What channels are they coming from?
- What objections do they have and what research are they doing when trying to choose between you and your competitors?
- How do you engage with them before they become customers?
- What questions are they asking you before they buy, and how do they prefer to reach out and communicate with you?
- What typically makes them decide to purchase a product from you?
- How do they buy products from you?
- What are you doing to improve the unboxing experience for them?
- What are you doing to get customers to leave a review?
- What are you doing to get customers to buy again?
- What are you doing to make unhappy customers happy again?
- How are you engaging with people on a regular basis, in between the times when they are buying from you?
For help mapping the customer journey, check out this resource from CoSchedule.
2. Personalize Interactions – These days, personalization matters. To create a better experience for your customers—one that they aren’t used to getting from other online retailers—take the opportunity to personalize whenever engaging with them. Examples of personalization include:
- Using their first name in email or live chat
- Displaying personalized product recommendations in emails and on your website based on past search and purchase history
- Sending unique, personalized offers to past customers via email or direct mail in an effort to get them to buy again
- Sending handwritten thank you cards to each new customer you acquire.
To learn more about how you could be leveraging personalization to deliver a better experience to your customers, check out this resource from Foundr.
3. Go Big on Real-Time Customer Support – Another way you can differentiate from competitors and improve the perception that people have about your company is by creating more real-time customer support opportunities for your prospective buyers and customers. These days, online consumers want to be able to ask and get answers to their questions within a matter of seconds. When they can’t, they’re much more likely to leave for another business that will provide them with better service.
Consider these statistics from this article published by Ameyo:
- According to Forrester, “45% of US consumers will abandon an online transaction if their questions or concerns are not addressed quickly.”
- According to Mckinsey, “75% of online customers expect help within 5 minutes.”
- According to Nielsen-McKinsey, “33% of consumers would recommend a brand that provides a quick but ineffective response, nearly double the number (17%) who’d recommend a brand providing a slow but effective solution.”
As an ecommerce business owner, it’s up to you to provide real-time support to your prospective and existing customers. There are two ways you can do this: first, by implementing a live chat tool like Intercom, Drift, or Zendesk. Second, by allowing customers to enable real-time text and email updates after they order products from your store.
In addition to these two opportunities, you should also have a team in place that can monitor and respond to questions that come in on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.
4. Be Different Than Competitors – To get ROI from your customer experience efforts, you need to understand what sets you apart from competitors. Why do people choose you and your products over other businesses that are marketing and selling the same or similar products? When you uncover the answer, use it to your advantage, promote what it is that actually makes you unique, and scale efforts.
For example, do you offer better support? More transparency? Faster response times? Better follow-ups? More exciting unboxing experiences? Find out what is working for your business and go all in.
5. Delight at Every Turn – Customer delight should also be a big piece of your customer experience strategy. I’ve written about customer delight a few times before in past articles. The definition of customer delight is this:
Customer delight simply means to create outstanding experiences for people in an effort to create and nurture lasting relationships. It’s a way of thinking that goes beyond customer service. Delighting customers usually happens through the use of gifts, rewards, communication, and with the help of your team.
Customer delight is all about going above and beyond to:
- Remind customers why they buy from you and not the other guy.
- Show prospects why they should buy from you and not the other guy.
To win at customer experience, you need to delight not just customers, but also prospective buyers, at every turn. Need ideas on how to start delighting your audience? Dig into this resource from the Sellbrite blog.
6. Commit to Transparency – The ecommerce brands that are winning online shoppers over today are the ones that offer the most transparency. These days, buyers want to know how your products are made, how their information is being stored and protected, what your fulfillment and shipping process is like, and where they can go when they need help.
To effectively serve your customers and create the right reputation, you have to commit to transparency. It might mean making yourself a bit more vulnerable than you’re used to, but it will pay off in the end.
7. Win Back Skeptics – To build a winning customer experience strategy for your business, you can’t just focus on how to make people happier than they already are—you also need to find ways to address the people who aren’t always happy with your business and their experience buying products from you.
Remember, you don’t have control over everything. There will be times when your customers aren’t happy for one reason or another. As an ecommerce business owner, you can either choose to ignore unhappy customers, or you can fight to win them back.
I’m personally a big fan of winning back skeptics over letting unhappy people fester, partly because I believe in stellar customer service above all else, and partly because I know the impact that negative sentiment can have on an ecommerce business. Remember the statistic I shared earlier in this article? Help Scout shared that, “Americans tell an average of 15 people about a poor service experience, versus the 11 people they’ll tell about a good experience.”
I also know that it’s much harder and much more expensive to convert a new customer than it is to save and nurture an existing customer—even an unhappy one.
As part of your customer experience strategy, make an effort to document processes and guidelines for addressing unhappy customers and solving their problems. Don’t ignore them and pretend they aren’t there. Don’t say, “better luck next time.” Instead, show them that you care, that you’re willing to help, and that you want them to have a better relationship and experience with your brand.
8. Ask for Feedback – To improve your customer experience efforts, make sure that you’re taking time to collect regular feedback from all of your customers—happy and unhappy. Need help coming up with the right questions to ask people? Here are some questions to get your wheels turning:
- How did you find our website or products?
- What feeling did you have when you saw our products for the first time?
- What questions did you have? Were we able to answer them?
- Did you interact with anyone from our team? How was your experience?
- What make you decide to buy our products?
- What was the ordering process like?
- Were all your expectations met?
- What surprised you?
- What can we do better next time?
- Would you refer us to a friend? Why or why not?
- Would you write a review about us? Why or why not?
This obviously is not an exhaustive list, but it should help you get things started. To get answers to these questions, survey new customers manually over email or phone on a regular basis, or send them a Google form and incentivize participation with a coupon or special offer.
9. Make it All About Them, Not You – Finally, when building your customer experience strategy, make it about your customers, not about yourself. Don’t do things that you think would be great—find out what your customers think would be great. Don’t assume you know what is best for your customers. Instead, spend time talking to them and collect some real data. Work hard to gain an understanding of what makes your customers tick, why they buy the products they buy, how they make decisions, and what matters to them most when it comes to the interactions and experiences they have with the stores they buy from.
Want to learn more about how to leverage customer experience for your ecommerce store? Explore these recommended resources:
- What Is Customer Experience? from Forbes
- Understanding Customer Experience from Harvard Business Review
- The Year of Customer Experience: How Ecommerce Brands Can Prepare from HubSpot
- Ecommerce Customer Experience: Mastering Acquisition and Retention from Shopify
- The Retail Industry Is Focusing on Customer Experience and Convenience to Win in Ecommerce from Adweek
Over to You
How are you investing in customer experience at your business? Tell me in the comments below.