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If you are a business owner or leader and you are struggling to find a way to distinguish yourself from your competitors, simply take a walk in your customers’ shoes. Don’t limit yourself just to the sales transaction; rather, look at your customers’ full experience from the time they seek to learn about you, through purchasing from you, and then getting support from you. What you find may surprise (and disappoint) you

As a company grows, it’s easy to become internally focused on processes, procedures, forms and requirements. In order to stay competitive, the key is to have an "outside-in" perspective. Like the concept of a "secret shopper", shift your perspective and take an honest look from the viewpoint of the customer.

How worthwhile is it to focus on customer experience? In a recent report, Forrester (forrester.com/ customerexperience) examined a stock portfolio of companies who were deemed to be leaders in customer experience. Those companies enjoyed a 43% performance gain from 2007-2012, compared with only a 14.5% increase in the S&P for the same period. Even more to the point, those companies in the customer experience "laggard" category suffered an almost 34% loss!

The Forrester report also indicated that we have moved out of the "Age of Information" and into the "Age of the Customer." Well known examples are Amazon and Southwest Airlines, two organizations who have intentionally built their brands on ease of doing business and customer service. One of the key drivers is social media and our virtually unlimited access to information. A poor or a fabulous customer experience is quickly shared and the impact magnified. 

Fundamentally, customers want a quality product that meets their needs, on time, at a fair price. Delivering to these basic expectations gets you in the game, but it doesn’t guarantee you will win. In this fast-paced world in which we live, there are few things more valuable to customers than their time. Rise above parity and distinguish yourself in the marketplace by making it easy to do business with you.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • When was the last time you asked your customers how you are doing? Do you survey them or give them opportunities to provide you feedback (positive or negative) after a transaction or interaction? Rather than seeking to eliminate complaints, you should seek to solicit them. You can’t take action to improve if you aren’t aware of problems.    
  • Do you unnecessarily expose your customers to all of the complexity and process issues inside of your organization? (Customers really don’t care whose department is responsible – they just want help.) Or do you make sure all interactions are value-added and easy to complete, with customer-contact-people taking ownership to solve problems?  
  • Do you have a customer service strategy? If so, how does it relate to your brand promise? Is your execution consistent with your message? Saying "Customers are our number one priority," and then creating an onerous return policy will result in confusion and frustration…and lost business. 

Listen to your customers, walk in their shoes, and then act on what you learn. Along with a loyal following, you’ll create a profitable and sustainable revenue stream.   

Thanks to Diane Janovsky, strategic patner to HPI Solutions and a management consultant in Phoenix, for her thoughts on this important subject.