The Only Way to Win Over Customers Is to Become Their First Choice. Here's How to Do It.

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What does it mean to be your customers’ “first choice” and why does it matter?

Customers buy products or services to solve their problems and they have more choices than ever about where to go and who to buy from. They do all the research about products, prices, online reviews and who might be on the shortlist before even venturing out the front door. This is true for almost any service, whether it’s buying a sofa or selecting a caretaker or assisted living facility for aging parents. If you are not already on the shortlist, you are not in the game.

Customers want certainty about what to buy, how much to pay and who they can trust to provide the right advice to solve their problems. Being their “first choice” means you stand out above everyone else to meet all of the above needs.

In our 25 years of global experience in rolling out customer experience (CX) improvement programs, we hear from customers that first-choice companies deliver higher levels of empathy, they have a proactive approach to building strong client relationships and they treat their employees very well. Customers see employees who are inspired and engaged to provide exceptional service experiences that deliver an unmatched competitive advantage.

Here are three tips on how they do this and how their CX programs help them to manage the process.

Related: 5 Actionable Ways to Improve Your Customer Experience

1. Listen and learn

The traditional approach to CX is to measure customer satisfaction and sentiment about a product or service. “Best Practice Programs” (with a focus on being their customer’s first choice) take a different approach. They focus on understanding customer expectations and train their teams to anticipate the kind of experiences a customer will expect when it’s an exceptional experience.

A simple way to explain it is traditional CX programs measure how likely a customer is to recommend them. Best Practice CX Programs already know that advocates are recommending them — instead, they focus their attention on knowing why and repeating this experience to create more and more customers who regard them as their first choice. This, in turn, creates more advocates who promote them on social media, visit more often and spend more. Their CX strategy is about driving growth.

How do they do this? They tailor their CX feedback questions for each customer profile. They understand the details to take action (i.e. what, who, why and how to improve).

By asking the right questions the customers tell them everything they need to know to listen, learn and take action. Team members go from being reactive to being proactive and trying to anticipate customer needs. For customers, it feels like the team members understand everything they need and really care about finding the right solution for them. They feel heard, it builds trust and it makes you better than your competition … and it’s why you are their first choice.

Related: Do This to Level Up Your Customer-Experience Management Game

2. Personalization

Best Practice CX programs make personalization a key factor. Personalization in the context of your CX program applies to the way salespeople solve unique customer problems. In your CX program survey, you can branch specific questions for specific product groups to find out more about how the salesperson introduced key products and accessories. So your CX program is “personalized” in terms of what questions are asked to follow the exact purpose of their visit and to understand what was discussed. For your customers, the branching of questions will feel totally relevant to them because it only asks about what happened related to the products and needs that brought them in today.

But here’s the best part: Because you know who served them, when and where, you can then diagnose what worked and what needs improving. So you are “personalizing” your skill development plan for your teams.

Here’s an example of why this matters. One of our clients launched their CX program and quickly discovered that some team members were cutting corners in the way they were demonstrating the product range, with many failing to mention relevant accessories. When they compared average transaction value results, they discovered that team members who provided the full demonstration achieved a 64% higher value ($648 per transaction vs. $396 for those who didn’t provide the full product demonstration).

It was the personalization of the survey that revealed the skills gaps and allowed the client to increase sales results immediately without needing to spend a cent more on marketing. Customers also commented on the improved service and NPS scores increased.

Related: Your Online Customer Experience Is More Than a Buzzword — It’s the Backbone of Your Business. Here’s How to Optimize It.

3. The right measurement

Management guru Peter Drucker said, “What gets measured gets managed,” and Best Practice CX Programs recognize that by measuring the right things, teams will take the right action.

The specific key performance indicators (KPIs) will be different for every industry. For example, if you are a retailer you may measure the “average transaction value,” whereas if you own a veterinary clinic, you may measure the “work-up rate.”

Our recommendation is to focus on your rate of improvement and to close the performance “gap” between your top 10% and your bottom 10%. Wherever each team member begins, set your targets on closing the gap between their results and proven best practice (i.e. top 10%) over the coming quarter — if they are well behind then aim to improve by 10% over the coming quarter.

Your ultimate goal is to have every team member deliver experiences that will create advocates. If you recognize and reward improvements and amplify best practices, this will focus your team members on action and reinforce the right behaviors.

So to wrap up — firstly take the guesswork out to understand why certain experiences delight your customers and will position you as their first choice. Next, anticipate what they expect and personalize every experience. Finally, consider how you plan to measure success. We suggest that you focus on “improvement rates.” Remember, your team members will make or break the experience, so your CX program must be easy to manage, motivational and empower them to be accountable for improvement and able to celebrate success.

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