The world of business is not a sterile one, made up of spreadsheets, data and documents. Pseudo-entrepreneurs may believe that, but it’s a fallacy.
The cold, hard fact of the matter is that business is about one thing, and one thing alone.
As a CEO, how you engage with your client base can truly make or break your business. Indeed, according to a 2016 survey by Gartner, an overwhelming 89% of companies report that they now expect to compete ‘mostly on the basis of customer experience’ as opposed to other areas. Just four years earlier, that figure was at a mere 36%.
So it’s fair to say that there has been a palpable culture of change in business owners’ perceptions.
The reason is simple. More and more people are acknowledging the sheer power that customer services and high-level engagement can harness. And these strategies need to be at the very forefront of your business strategy.
The rules for keeping customers happy
Here’s one thing that we know for sure: in the UAE, competition is ferocious. Each and every year, thousands of new startups emerge into the already-saturated market.
UAE competition is ferocious. Each and every year, thousands of new startups emerge into the already-saturated market.
Case in point, in 2015 The National reported that an immense 22,000 SMEs had entered the market. So to survive in the current business climate, you have to be ahead of the game. It is essential that you enhance your level of customer support sooner rather than later. To do so you need to consider everything from what your customers need to how that makes them feel.
So here are my five core rules for keeping customers happy.
Rule 1. Keep it simple: When a customer first comes to your business for products or services, they embark on a journey into the unknown. You have to make the entire process as simple and painless as possible. Back in 2013, a whopping 87% of customers told an Omnichannel survey that brands needed to try harder to create a ‘seamless experience for customers.’ In the last four years, that stat is sure to have soared further still. Customers are literally begging companies to up their game.
Unfortunately, though, it doesn’t appear that businesses are stepping up. More recently, 90% of customers claimed that they had trouble finding the support they needed online since the pages were hard to navigate. Don’t overestimate the patience of the average customer. We now live in an instant world and if people can’t gain the information they need right away, they will switch off. Failing to make the customer experience simple isn’t just a bad business move – it’s a surefire way to upset and lose your client base.
Rule 2. Go beyond the script: To make a lasting impression on customers, you need to first understand their emotions and train your staff to do the same. Any business transaction has to have a ‘human’ element, that reaches the customer on a deep level. You and your team don’t need to stick to a sterile script. Instead, it’s about really engaging with the customer and following up on said engagement.
So, where should your training start? According to a paper published in Sage Journals, the idea of affective events theory connects employee emotions to workplace performance, but they went further to note that positivity on the part of an employee has a direct effect on that of the customer, and vice versa. So for employees, it’s suggested that taking personal responsibility for your customers’ issues and helping them to solve their problems is key.
These methods are proven to work for one-on-one interactions, but what if you’re not in a customer-facing scenario?
Well, one company that uses social media to bridge this emotional gap is the drinks company Innocent Smoothies. If you take a look at their online platforms, there’s one striking thing that you will notice: the tone is familiar. It’s that method of ‘treating people like they’re people’ that gets serious results – at least, according to their Communities Manager Helena Langdon. In a recent interview with Link Humans, she explained that this very notion was at the heart of their online content. The company is renowned for its online engagement with over 274,000 followers on Twitter as well as a large presence on Facebook and other social media outlets. So, tailoring your communications to the audience is crucial.
Rule 3. Don’t be ‘too corporate’: One of the cardinal sins that too many CEOs and fledgling business leaders commit is this: they pretend to be larger and, indeed, more corporate than they actually are. Don’t get too big for your business boots. Using a guise to ‘trick’ your client base into thinking your business is more developed than it is won’t do you any favours. It’s a huge turn-off.
Don’t get too big for your business boots. It’s a huge turn-off.
In reality, customers respond positively to companies they perceive as being ‘independent’ as opposed to ‘corporate.’ In fact, one study carried out by Kingston’s Small Business Research Centre for Barclays found that three in five customers were willing to pay more for a certain product if they believed it came from a small independent business rather than a large commercial corporation.
The takeaway is that there’s an unspoken value in being perceived as a smaller, self-sustaining business. It allows customers to connect with your business on an emotional level. They buy into your narrative. Use that to your advantage. Don’t be afraid to show that your business is still growing. The relationship you build when you share this experience with customers is priceless.
Rule 4. Encourage customer complaints: Sure, this rule will force you out of your comfort zone. Most CEOs want to avoid customer complaints at all costs but doing so is a grave mistake. Just last year, the Commercial Compliance & Customer Protection sector in the Department of Economic Development in Dubai reported that they received a colossal 27,027 complaints from disgruntled customers. As if that isn’t enough to grab your attention, the figure had increased 23% on the previous year’s numbers.
The point is that there’s a growing strength in customer complaints. What’s more, it’s not a strength you ought to be afraid of either – it’s one that you need to harness. While your instinct may be to shy away from confrontations, you need to view them as a tool and use them to build on the customer experience.
Remember, an angry, annoyed, or disappointed customer is not always a lost one. Hearing their complaints and working to help them resolve issues may help you regain their trust. Research from the Journal of Marketing shows that attempting to win back customers can seriously improve your bottom line. In my opinion, this process is about ease and speed. Make it as quick and simple as possible for customers to complain when they are unhappy with the services or products you deliver. Once you have that information, you need to act upon it and show said customer how and where you have improved.
Remember, an angry, annoyed, or disappointed customer is not always a lost one. Hearing their complaints and working to help them resolve issues may help you regain their trust.
Rule 5. Use positivity to win custom: Language is power. We all use negative language in our day-to-day lives without realising it. When you’re dealing with customers, though, you should avoid it at all costs. The Harvard Business Review notes that words such as ‘won’t,’ ‘can’t,’ and ‘don’t’ have a direct negative impact on the client. Unless you want repeat calls on the same issue or, worse, customers leaving, this language has to be completely eradicated from your interactions.
That’s not to say that you need to lie to your clients and tell them things are possible when it’s just not the case. Instead, reword your phrasing. For example, ‘We can’t do that right now’ becomes ‘We will be able to do that in a few weeks’. Making that tiny change to your wording may be enough to keep customers happy and, importantly, loyal. Not convinced? Here’s a real world example: when lighting company Osram Sylvania used this technique, it helped them reduce their Customer Effort Score (a measurement of customer satisfaction) to levels below the average for companies of their type. It’s fair to say that this small switch is key in managing customer relations.
Genuine connections are key
What do all of my rules have in common? It should be obvious by now – they’re all ways in which you can build genuine, lasting connections with your clients. Every business owner hopes to gain a loyal army of customers on whom they can rely but few truly realise that it’s these interactions and connections that make all the difference.
Considering these core rules will equip you with what you need to enhance customer engagement and create relationships that stand the test of time.