When people call certain service companies -- realtors, pest control, movers and the like -- they are essentially dialing 911. That's because they’re likely facing a crisis that involves one of life’s biggest stressors, ranging from birth and death, to marriage and divorce, to a new house or job or no house or job.
A recent study on easing anxiety for stressed-out customers looked at “ high-emotion services” (the purchase of a new home or car, computer repair or airline travel, for example) that elicit intense feelings even before the product is purchased or the service begins. The problem the researchers found? These types of companies often fail to sufficiently address emotional triggers in their business models.
Certain product and service providers, it seems, make enduring impressions on distressed customers. If you're such a provider and you can’t adequately respond to those buyers' concerns and feelings, your customers will remember (and share) that your service left them feeling overwhelmed, helpless, neglected or, even worse, frightened. Those notions don’t exactly add up to top customer satisfaction scores.
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So, what can you do?
Rescuing customers from themselves
As co-founder and CEO of College Hunks Hauling Junk, I've learned that our role in customers’ dramas defines our mission: to rescue these clients from stress. If our team can’t deliver on that promise, our clients will suffer.
So, the question becomes: How can an entrepreneur address a customer’s emotional and logistical needs simultaneously?
My team and I are all doers, but we have had to take a step back and assess our entire process to figure out how to fulfill our mission of making moving easier for everyone involved. Through our experiences with stressed-out clients, we've learned to leverage technology, psychology and ourselves to move them emotionally -- not just physically.
Here are four strategies that every entrepreneur can put to good use:
1. Try on your customers’ psychological state.
Regardless of our customers' background, we already know that they're stressed. But what particular circumstances are they facing?
We learn a lot from the first phone call, so we train our first responders as seriously as if they were EMTs. Every client has a story, and we listen so we can prepare and customize a personal experience.
By performing market research on our clients, we've discovered that a lot of little things -- such as utilities and cable connections or unfamiliarity with the new neighborhood -- contribute to the stress people feel when they move. That's why we created a VIP Move Concierge service to help our customers get set up with utilities, change their address with the post office and find out more about the schools and coffee shops in the vicinity.
You can do the same: Use empathy to step into your customers’ shoes to determine how to reduce their fears or worries. What could you do to make things easier?
2. Hire for attitude and train for skill.
How often have you walked into a store and been greeted by employees full of energy and passion for their work? These traits can’t be taught or trained.
Empathy is an essential part of customer service, so we ask candidates to tell us about a time they went above and beyond for a stranger. Hire people who are absolutely committed to your brand promise. Ask them to read aloud from your client interaction script to see whether their tone and body language align with the customer experience you strive to provide.
Don’t interview -- hold auditions by interviewing in groups of three to 10 so the best candidates stand out. We hire as many people who do, and sometimes hire nobody at all, to make sure our employees are motivated to make our clients happy.
3. Painstakingly map your customers' journey.
Most companies interact with customers at eight crucial points, from the first phone call or mouse click, to the knock at the door, to wrap-up and payment options.
We studied our interactions by walking through every step of our customers’ journey. At each interaction, we asked how we could make the experience hassle-free. Did they prefer to use a credit card or check? Did they prefer to split a big move over two days?
We’ve found no better barometer of client interaction than front-line team members; they know the score. Watch them in action, ask questions and learn about your business from their point of view. Then, use what you learn to fine-tune customer delivery. This has compelled us to create our concierge service to help clients handle everything from setting up utilities to registering for school.
4. Spend more on customer experience than acquisition.
Marketers talk about client-acquisition cost, but consider the alternative: What if you invested in client experience? Survey your clients in real time, and act on their feedback. If you don’t have satisfied customers, a new mailing list won’t solve your problems.
Most businesses budget for advertising, but not for experience. Build this into your financial model; customer experience should be a line item on the P&L. On top of spending money on experience, spending time is just as important.
Constantly raise the bar -- client experience can never just be set and forgotten. Don’t let your competitors catch up to your experience; form a committee that owns client experience to constantly look for ways to one-up the rest.
At our moving company, we surveyed more than 5,000 clients nationwide about their past experiences with professional movers, asking what actions would have improved those situations. Based on that feedback, we tweaked our process to make sure our clients’ experience was our No. 1 priority.
Growing a loyal and enthusiastic customer base isn’t as complicated as you might think. You can build a viral brand by going above and beyond for your clients and making just such a focus on customer experience part of your business model. In turn, you’ll gain "brand evangelists" who will spread the good news of how your company saved the day for them. Others will hear their message.