Are you(r customers) experienced?

To support current and future New Carlisle businesses, local organizations are hosting a free Creating Small Business Success workshop on September 13. The Gazette is presenting a series of articles leading up to the workshop to spark your entrepreneurial ambition.

There’s a new X in town and it doesn’t have anything to do with a generation. This X is part of CX and that’s shorthand for customer experience. “Customer service” itself isn’t going the way of landline phones, 8-track tapes and printed snapshots any time soon, but it is now only one part of developing customer loyalty and increasing revenue.

Businesses that are focusing on customer experience actually map it out. That is, they note every point where a customer interacts with the business and identify strengths and weaknesses.

Let’s take fictional business Debbie’s Catering as an example.

The first customer interaction occurs when a potential customer searches for a caterer online and finds Debbie’s Catering. Next is outreach (phone or email), an in-person meeting, a tasting, a down payment invoice, a final pre-event check-in, set up and delivery for the event, event service, a post-event survey or phone call and final invoicing.

That’s 10 steps; 10 times to catch the ball and run it into the end zone or 10 opportunities to drop the ball. Talk about pressure! Taken all together, keeping a smile on your customer’s face can be intimidating.

But breaking down the subject areas of Debbie’s interaction points will show you that it can be done.

Online presence

An accurate, informative website will start customer interactions off on the right foot. Keep your website current. Update event photos, sample menus, etc. once a month or so, especially if you offer seasonal menus. A photo of a Christmas party when it’s mid-April deducts points on the customer experience scale.

Customer outreach How soon do you respond to customer emails and/or phone calls? You’re in the food service industry, so of course you’re busy, but the more quickly you respond to customer outreach, the happier the customer is.

In-person interactions

Treat each customer with warmth, sincerity and attentiveness. Notice problems before they do, rectify problems quickly and ask about satisfaction.

Product or service experience In Debbie’s case they are temperature, appearance, taste. Whatever product or service is, know that if even one of its attributes is off, the customer experience meter swings quickly over to the negative.

Invoicing/the check Even computerized point of sale equipment can make mistakes. Billing should always be reviewed for accuracy before delivery. Disputes about bills should be handled diplomatically.

Service Sometimes you’re short staffed or you hired someone who is just good enough (but not great). Even if customers understand that situation, it doesn’t mean they are willing to continue being your customer if their service experience is below their expectations. Remember: it’s easier to make money from repeat customers than it is to find new customers.

Follow-up In an era when businesses live or die by online reviews, “Was everything good?” offered at the end of their experience just doesn’t cut it.

If you use Square as your POS platform, you can have a mini survey sent to credit card customers.

Fast food giants like McDonald’s and Wendy’s have a survey code on the back of their receipts and they offer free product for customers that complete surveys. Don’t avoid feedback. It’s the marketing research you need to stay at the top of your game.

Don’t underestimate the power of a good experience when it comes to creating loyal customers. Whether you map out your business’s customer experience or you just take time to give it some thought, it’s time well spent.

The free Creating Small Business Success workshop will be held Thursday, September 13, 5:30 – 7pm, at the New Carlisle Olive Township Public Library.

For more information, contact John Borkowski, at jborki1@aol.com.

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