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Focus: Customer Experience

I was at a real estate market forecast presentation the other day and a gentleman was presenting on the retail market in our area. He was talking about the shift that has been happening in retail for quite some time now. In the last few years, a lot of retailers have been shifting their focus to online stores because that is where the customers are. However, there are a handful of retailers that have shifted their focus back to brick and mortar stores. Why? Because brand loyalty starts with creating a great customer experience.

Why is the customer experience so important?

With so many choices out there for the consumer to choose from, you need to stand out. You need to be unique. Even in the design industry, the field can seem crowded at times. Focusing on giving your customer a great experience can do a few things:

1. Customers are willing to pay more for a better experience. I'm one of them. If you can create a great experience, consumers are willing to pay up to 15% more for goods and services.

2. Good experiences creates loyalty. If your customer has a great experience with you, why would they risk trying someone new? It's kind of like ordering your usual at your favorite restaurant. Why risk ordering something you may not like? If you create a consistent customer experience, your customers will keep coming back to you, just like their favorite menu item.

3. Loyal customers tell their friends. Over the 12 years that I have been involved in building a business, one thing I have learned: happy clients tell their friends. Also, unhappy clients tell their friends. Yikes! What side of that spectrum do you want to be on? I choose good. If your focus is providing a good customer experience and your process is consistent, you will not only have your customers come back to you, but you will start to get to know their friends and colleagues.

Now that we know how important it is to create a good experience, how do we do it?

1. First things first. Create a customer vision story. Get in their head. How do they want to be treated? What does the process of design look and feel like to them? Are they confused? Are they unsure as to the next steps in the process? What does the end result look like? You cannot over-communicate with your customers. Confident communication is the special sauce in any relationship.

2. Who is your customer? Understanding who your customers are and how they want to be treated is extremely important. Are your customers typically age 15-25? Are they 55-65? What are their goals? Are they just starting a career or a family? Are they planning for retirement? What do they like to do in their free time? Knowing who your customer is will help you identify their goals faster and connect with them on a deeper level, which leads me to the next strategy...

3. Create an emotional connection. If your customer is just another number on your quota sheet, it will be fairly obvious to them. We've all experienced it. The car salesman that is low on his sales that month. They come up from behind and try to sell you a car that is the opposite of what you need. I had a salesperson the other day try to show me subway tile when I specifically told her that I wasn't looking for subway tile. How frustrating is that? Was she even listening to me? I left the store frustrated and confused. Create an emotional connection. What do they like? What do they need? Talk to them about their kids or family. You don't have to be best friends, but you do need to show them that you care about them, as a person, not just a sale.

4. Obtain customer feedback. Not a year from now, but right now. Make sure you are asking your customers for feedback during the time you spend with them. As a designer, I have projects that I work on for only a few short hours, but some projects I work on for almost a year or more. Make sure you are asking for feedback during the process so you can adjust and improve your process in real time. Don't wait for the next customer to come through your door, improve the experience with the customers you have right now.

Focusing on the experience you want your customer to have will not only create loyal customers, but it will boost your own feeling of satisfaction for a job well done.

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