In the early days, you know your customers by name, their likes, dislikes, price levels and tolerances. You recruited each one of them. You remember the long, hard and arduous journey you had to walk before they committed to doing business with you.
They are the reason you exist. So you treat them with kit-gloves. You meet them at awkward hours.
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You even miss a family gathering convened by the elders to discuss amadlozi or shock, horror, your sons’ school soccer tournament because you have a ‘meeting with the client.’
Going the extra mile
What you are actually doing is delivering a personalised customer experience.
Your mantra? ’My client won’t leave me, not because I am cheaper than others but because I am better than others.’
So you’re good. Better than most. Because you’re good, clients start spending more money with you. This is good. You begin to hire people into your business to help you deliver this amazing experience.
But there is one problem: The bigger the team gets, the further removed from the customer you become, the more sterile and standardised the customer experience. You begin to look like that company you swore you’d never become. Are all growth entrepreneurs doomed to suffer this fate?
I have been looking at answering this question for a long time. When we grew, consistently brilliant customer experiences were a non-negotiable for us. So we built an architecture to deliver great customer experiences, regardless of how large we became.
Today, we deal with hundreds of customers, across six businesses, in four different continents and have teams in three countries. This model has served us well.
1. Be responsive
Client experiences are fast-moving, vast and varied. What is required is for you to build a ‘responsive customer management’ culture into your teams.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Do we listen to our customers?
- Do we listen with the intent to understand or to respond?
- As we listen, where do we collect and organise this information?
- Do we have a plan to act on what we find, hear or understand?
Build a team that cares about customer experience. You can build the system to deliver experience later. Attitude is key.
2. Be tailored
Most people listen simply to feel better about the fact that they are listening. They don’t actually convert that insight into action. What made you successful in the beginning was that you listened and acted.
How do you get this culture of insights-driven-action into your team:
- Monitor them by having regular feedback sessions on what they are doing and how that is linked to feedback from the customer.
- Reward them when they do something that is meaningful for the customer and impactful for the business.
- When you see or find someone doing something beyond their call of duty, make that person the hero for that moment. More people will look for opportunities to showcase their own initiative.
3. Be predictable
Customers want a predictable experience. Inconsistency is the silent killer of return customer revenues. So document the ideal customer journey. Then communicate it and make your people aspire to deliver that journey.
If there is certain music that you play at midday to liven up your shop, make sure everyone in every shop knows that playing that music is a non-negotiable.
For the team at Vida e Caffé it’s chanting affirmations every time they feel their energies dwindle. For Nando’s in Picadilly its Miriam Makeba’s Pata Pata at 4pm everyday. They have a predictable experience for the customer.
4. Be reliable
If customers can’t trust that the experience will be of the same high standard each time, your efforts will be in vain. You must ensure that your team delivers a reliable experience every time. Not most of the time.
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If your phone or computer crashes or freezes every other day, it doesn’t matter how amazing the user interface is, or how great the hardware looks, you will be left feeling short-changed. Similarly, being reliable is something you earn and have to continue earning.
5. Measure, monitor, improve
Measure everything that delivers a customer experience. Monitor the areas that need attention and improvement. Work to improve the weaknesses so that you are not caught with the same deficiency twice.