Are you guilty of treating digital marketing as a ‘nice to have’ than an integral part of your business strategy?
With most Small To Medium sized Businesses (SMBs) treating the Social and Mobile experience as a mere “check in the box”, without translating it into a mechanism to live up to their customer expectations, it’s not a surprise why most SMB brands have not emerged beyond being just another product/service!
SMBs must branch out their digital efforts to build stronger business relationships with their customers.That calls for not only collecting useful customer insights, but leveraging the information to optimise every interaction from the customer’s perspective to foster loyalty, brand advocacy and ultimately referrals for their products/services.
In other words,Customer Experience Management is the new Customer Relationship Management!
CXM, in short, helps remove internal barriers so that employees, processes and digital technology platforms can work in tandem to deliver a holistic customer experience across every touchpoint.
Don’t let corporate-speak fool you into thinking this is a complex solution for large enterprises. It really isn’t.
SMBs that are still structured around their products rather than customers and have failed to take note of the pressing need for cultural change will render themselves obsolete sooner or later.
So in my usual acronym style, I will use the word EXPERIENCE, complemented by insights from various industry experts, to explain how you can transform your SMB to deliver and manage an exceptional customer experience online.
Your Business First
As a first step, Customer Experience Management requires redefining your business and re-examining every customer touch point to understand where your business is today!
As you embark on your digital journey, keep in mind that technology is the very bridge that facilitates strategic alignment between customer expectations, your brand’s promise and your company culture allowing you to deliver a magical service experience that your customers can’t find elsewhere.
Brands need to evaluate their cultural challenges to identify customer experience loop holes and fill the gap. Believe me, although everything looks fine on the surface, there will always be issues that have to be rectified.
Cultural challenges include:
- low workforce productivity due to technology or process misalignment,
- lack of team collaboration due to improper management,
- no real-time job visibility as a result of outdated technology, and
- a business centered focus instead of customer centric focus.
The Trades Services in Australia is a good example for this. My team here at solomoIT is currently preparing to launch a brand new Customer Experience Management platform that will change the way this sector is operating now. So stay tuned for more on this from us!
Of course, there are many other sectors similar to Trades Services that are in need of this kind of cultural shift! I’m sure someone is already working on making it happen in a big way.
If You Don’t Bring Yours, Someone Else Will Bring Theirs!
Align your X-Factor with your customer experience before your competitors swoop in!
SMBs that rely on a single “great” idea are soon thrown out by those who never stop innovating! If you don’t wake up to the alarm bells ringing all around you, it will be too late for rescue.
Customers love brands that understand their needs and can fill the void with an offer that meets their expectations.With the rise of mobile devices and social media platforms, SMBs have the opportunity to get closer to their target market in a faster, more meaningful way. This allows brands to reach customers on time, improve their visibility, keep them informed and develop a long-term relationship rather than making them a one-time, transaction-based offer.
The ability for customers to connect with a well recommended, local service provider as and when the need arises, could be the X-factor that sets your SMB apart from others!
A great example is Harshini Fernando, a top rated Airbnb host whose story I’ve discussed in my recent article on how ordinary people can take extraordinary steps to become global STARS. Here’s what she said in one of her interviews:
“I enrolled for free on Airbnb, Trip Advisor and Booking.com and I get my visitors since I’m featured as number 1 on most of these sites”.
Harshini further explains how she manages to humanise the customer experience by going out of her way to please her guests. “Instead of only providing accommodation to my customers, I would go that extra mile to make them happy. Even before the guest arrives, I communicate with them, book train tickets for them and arrange transfers. Irrespective of the time their flight arrives, I’m always there to say hello to them and offer them a warm meal.”
Harshini brought her X-Factor to her business in the hospitality industry and leveraged the power of customer reviews for an insane amount of organic referrals and ZERO advertising. That’s what I call social selling in action!
Need Process Support
Allow your team to focus on customers not processes!
Employees play an integral role in delivering your product or service; yet they are often under-resourced to service the business process needs in demanding professional service and product industries. Implementing business and customer support by leveraging highly trained and customer-focused teams off-shore can free your staff to build client love, the bit that will truly drive your business forward, enabling your business to make the step-change for which you have been planning.
This can only be achieved with the right Business Process Outsourcing support, using the latest technology, highly-qualified staff supported by excellent systems and training.
A relatable example of this is from PBO Global, a premium off-shore business service providing professional support staff including lawyers, accountants and HR professionals. The team based in the Philippines currently support a range of Australian businesses across sectors such as franchising, law, retail and management-accounting.
“As a director of PBO Global , I have enjoyed working with our Australian businesses assisting them assimilate members of our off-shore team deep into their businesses. At the very base level, there have been significant cost reductions; at the higher-levels, I have appreciated watching our team-members become an absolutely integral part of business processes and core team members.
The ultimate results have centred around the Business owner or Manager being able to focus their time and their team’s time on customer outcomes knowing that core processes are being managed properly”
With Use Of Technology
While beating the competition on the basis of customer experience remains the number one priority of business leaders, the actual implementation could be difficult to achieve without the right technology platforms.
Today’s consumers are Social, Local and Mobile! You must optimise the customer experience according to their needs and preferences!
First, SMBs need to understand what technology hardware or software upgrades complement their brand and in what ways will it help them deliver a seamless experience across all customer touch points.
Hybrid devices like Microsoft Surface and cloud-based platforms have made it possible for brands to promptly respond to customer requests and access crucial business and customer information anywhere, anytime!
Secondly, customers are increasingly looking for social proof – what others are saying about a brand. Hence, social platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, along with communication channels like Skype are all helping businesses get closer to their customers and understand their expectations.
We have recently witnessed major partnerships emerging between technology firms and social networking platforms. A good example is the recent acquisition of LinkedIn by Microsoft. No doubt SMBs will be able to leverage such integrated models and deliver newly defined customer experiences.
“As an active investor, mentor, advisor, and previously a services provider & corporate guy, I’ve assisted several thousand SMBs and aspiring entrepreneurs for more than two decades. I believe resilience, and exceeding customer expectations are two keys that can turn simple ideas into an ‘instant’ hit.
I’ve seen a large number of investment pitches from start-ups that want to change the way their niche industry operates. What often makes these businesses successful is not just their agility, but a willingness by the founder or owner to embrace disruptive innovation, delivered through technology, in a way that their target market demands. And it all starts with owners focusing on the one big prize – customer loyalty. “
Customers want to maintain their relationships by accessing relevant business information on demand!
Building relationships to improve customer experience is at the heart of any digital transformation effort. From personalisation to self-service and constant contact, the need for businesses to live up to their brand journey and manage grievances has become more pressing than ever.
The bond your brand creates between customers and your product/service is what makes them want to connect and engage with your SMB and also share their experience with their networks.
Check out this interview with Australia Post where four customer experience experts discuss how 2016 has been and will be for brands.
According to these experts, business relationships could be strengthened with a focus on creating dialogue through personalised communication, investing in social engagement and embracing digital as an integral part of their customers’ lives.
Now! Not Tomorrow!
Innovation in customer experience is happening all around us! Your SMB cannot afford to stay stagnant!
We have already seen how numerous start-ups have used technology to change the way their industry operates. Uber (revolutionised the transportation industry), Netflix (transformed on-demand entertainment) and Airbnb (introduced the concept of a shared economy where each involved party benefits by renting out their space to travellers). In today’s world, one cannot deny the importance of technology and the groundbreaking innovation it has facilitated to turn around customer experience!
The key to success lies in identifying the need gaps in customer expectations and working your way back to bridge that gap.
That’s exactly what P.A.D Plumbing & Maintenance, a trades services company in Melbourne has been practicing!
“With a focus on constant improvement in our business processes, we are never hesitant to upgrade our technology and live up to our customer expectations.
We believe that customer experience innovation is the main factor that allows us to shine through and stand out from our competitors. We are always on the lookout for innovative social, local, mobile and cloud platforms to improve our customers’ experience.”
Your Network To Become Referrals!
Customers believe in endorsements coming from trusted third-party sources online!
The ultimate goal for SMBs is to nurture their relationships with customers so they become their social sellers i.e. a valuable source for business referrals.
While word-of-mouth is the best form of advertising, it does not happen organically every time! Businesses that seek to leverage their network to become their referrals need to generously reward them for bringing them qualified leads.
Referral programs can be a great way to get customers to support you and make them feel a part of the team working towards a shared goal.
Mark Phillips, a Microsoft Brand Ambassador, global business mentor and serial entrepreneur advocating SMBs to move to CXM platforms, puts it this way:
“For SMBs to generate more qualified leads, if there is one thing I can stress, it is to immediately incorporate online referrals into your strategy.
My big wake-up call occurred the day I started getting approaches from startups in Silicon Valley. Even though I was in Australia people thought I could add real value to them there in the global heart of the tech industry. Online endorsements coming from mutually trusted third parties carry so much weight! Almost everyday now I’m talking with people in at least 3 other countries.”
Social Media is bridging the gap between SMBs and their clients from across the globe!
While most businesses today are focused on serving the needs of their local market,social networking platforms have allowed SMBs to tap into previously unexplored territories and fulfil the demands of customers beyond their existing target market.
This has given rise to more transparency, instant connectivity and better responsiveness from brands as they cater to the diverse needs of the community of customers outside their traditional market borders and deliver the kind of customer experience their online audience expects.
Joe Barbara, a real estate agent in Melbourne has experienced a rise in sales and demand for property since taking his business online.
“Having spent over 3 decades in real-estate, we have always closed deals with clients belonging to our traditional market within Australia, specifically Melbourne. However, setting up our business on some major social media sites is getting us referrals beyond traditional borders.
This allows us to focus more on changing our internal processes to become more active on social media platforms thereby bridging the gap between us and clients planning to move to Australia.”
Is The New Way Of Business
Building strategic business collaborations is a win-win for SMBs and their customers alike
Collaboration with key stakeholders is crucial to deliver the right customer experience by aligning your internal and external business processes. As discussed in my article on collaborative social selling for SMBs, collaboration can happen through a number of ways:
New collaborative tools have refined customer experience. From live video streaming to on-the-go mobile access, conferencing and social media, SMBs today are able to optimise interactions with their customers and engage with them anytime, anywhere.
Technologically advanced software and hardware have now made it possible for employees to fill in the knowledge gaps, get more visibility into their daily business activities and manage the work flow in a more efficient manner.
Businesses can collaborate with their suppliers and partners to manage inventory for their e-commerce store or even outsource entire departments. A good example of this is Sydney-based bankruptcy firm, Jones Partners. They outsourced all IT related aspects of their business so they can focus their efforts on their core operation.
“An important part of delivering a seamless stakeholder experience is to be able to listen to our clients, communicate with them as per their requirements and provide them with helpful resources to make the right decision.
However, that required a full time department dedicated to manage the stakeholder experience aspect of our business. Since outsourcing these tasks to a qualified and competent digital marketing firm, it has freed our precious time to focus on helping clients out of financial difficulty including bankruptcy and getting them back on their feet.”
Measurement Is The Key
For SMB’s, customer engagement alone is not enough! You need to measure it as well!
Today’s technologically advanced tools and platforms allow businesses to measure how well their customers engage with them “] at various touch-points, from inquiry to purchase and after sales services. Customer experience is the impression that customers develop about the brand as a result of all such encounters. [bctt tweet=”The better the customer experience the greater the customer engagement!
However, it’s measuring the engagement that reveals the shortcomings of internal and external business processes and failure to deliver the expected customer experience.
What makes today’s innovative brands different from the rest? Customer experience!
When I watch movies on Netflix, travel using Uber or stay in an accommodation provided by an Airbnb host, the one thing that’s common in all three is transparency. Not only can I put my ratings on their respective sites based on my personal experience, but the company can also identify the good, bad and ugly aspects of their business and measure its impact on customer experience. It is the customer feedback that helps SMBs improve their service or product experience!
Remember,each customer interaction is an opportunity to get organically referred to other potential clients!
Managing customer experience for your SMB is a multiple pronged approach that demands a complete cultural overhaul.It encompasses everything from evaluating your current business standing and finding your X-factor to instilling behavioural change in your employees, leveraging technological platforms, building online relationships, constantly innovating, generating referrals, networking, collaborating and engaging with all business stakeholders at every touch-point. Only then can you bridge the gap between your brand and your customer expectations.
Do you feel your business can benefit from better customer experience management?
If you have still not started thinking of change, it is time to get the ball rolling.
Led by Digital Transformation Influencer, Strategist, Microsoft Brand Ambassador and LinkedIn Social Selling Trainer, Logan Nathan and his team at solomoIT assists small and medium businesses (SMBs) make their mark in the digital world. As an established digital outsourcing firm since 2004, we are well positioned to provide digital transformation consulting, strategy building and implementation for Australian based SMBs using social, local, mobile and cloud based platforms.