Developing a Customer-Centric Business

5 Reasons & 7 Ways to Develop a Customer-Centric Business

Arielle is hiring a consultant for her business. She looks into a few different options, skims some reviews, and even calls a few references. One of the options stands out from the others, though. Arielle feels that it is focused on meeting her needs, and seeing the situation from her perspective, to an extent unmatched by the rest. She goes with the one that makes her feel that she will continue to be treated as the central concern.

 

How can you get the business of a customer like Arielle?

 

Naturally, you want a powerful vision and a strong company culture for your company so that you retain employees and your team is coordinated toward common goals. However, Arielle’s scenario is a reminder that these objectives are not always directly focused on the people who are truly your VIPs, whose satisfaction will determine your success and growth: your customers.

 

Just think about it from your own perspective: probably you have found yourself at certain points making purchases for which the deciding factor was customer experience. To look from the opposite side, probably many of the times that you decide not to buy from a business are because you don’t feel that you are valued and are perhaps being treated as a number.

 

Are you indifferent toward your customers? Shockingly, research shows that 68% of customers leave a certain provider because they thought the company was indifferent to their needs.

 

One company that has used the notion of prioritizing the customer for its branding is Salesforce – which offers the following five reasons for customer-centrism:

 

  1. Differentiation

 

Do you want to be memorable, to stand out and come across as the most impressive? A landmark Gartner report from 2014 found that customer experience is now the #1 thing that sets one brand apart from another, more critical than both product and price.

 

  1. Self-reliance

 

When online users set out to find a service to meet an immediate need, they want to be able to find a solution very quickly, as soon as they reasonably can. However, they also want to feel a sense of confidence and trust in the brand before they proceed. Answer customer questions right away on your site. Why? Because even back in 2010, nearly three-quarters of US Internet-connected consumers, 72%, said that they preferred getting answers themselves to contacting a company via email or phone.

 

  1. Prices going up

 

If you feel that you are in the discount barn of your industry, consider that the majority of people will pay more if they perceive that a company has strong corporate citizenship. According to a Nielsen survey, 55% of respondents said that they would pay more for services or products from companies that invest in sustainability or social causes.

 

  1. Retention

 

Make it as simple as possible, and people will return. You probably have websites that you visit to purchase certain household items, office supplies, or whatever else – returning to them because you find their purchase process seamless and straightforward.

 

Indeed, keeping it simple is not just a sales ultimatum but at the core of customer satisfaction. CEB determined that almost all customers, 94%, would return to a vendor if getting service required a minimal amount of effort on their part.

 

  1. Social integration

 

Responding to customers promptly will get their attention, and serving your customers means delivering a strong customer experience through each of your channels. After all, Bain & Company found that the amount a firm will make from a customer, on average, goes up 20-40% when the brand answers their questions on social media.

 

How can you become more customer-centric?

 

Here are ways you can take actions to achieve that customer-centered business that can yield the above results:

 

  1. Encapsulate your customer-centered mission.

 

You want to express your commitment to customers, a theme that you want to permeate your business, briefly but also meaningfully. Micah Solomon of consultancy Four Aces gives the example of Ritz-Carlton, which has the internal central philosophy, “We Are Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen.”

 

  1. Expand on your core operating principle by brainstorming core values.

 

Broaden the sense of customer-centric purpose within your office’s culture by also defining a set of values that guide the way that your company sets about achieving its mission. Values should include the expectations for relationships with customers, employees, affiliates, and suppliers.

 

  1. Keep preaching these values.

 

When you are building a certain culture and want your employees to understand it and take it seriously, reinforcement is powerful. You can go over one value each morning or at least once per week so that this foundation of your company is not neglected.

 

  1. Provide evidence.

 

Now, you aren’t just “preaching” your case (#3), but making a case for it with objective evidence. If you want to motivate your team to care about the customer on a moment-to-moment basis, show them how impactful extraordinary customer service can be.

 

Study your numbers, and however you can, form a connection between a favorable customer experience and metrics such as retention, revenue, and social sharing.

 

Gregory Ciotti of Help Scout stresses that you want any examples and data to come directly from your own customers – so that it’s immediate relevant and clear how your organization has specifically succeeded when you’ve put customers first.

 

  1. Gear your team toward active listening.

 

You always want to perform some creative ideation through your own team, but it’s also crucial to make use of the perspectives of your customers. Their feedback shows you how to create more business.

 

That feedback is a key piece of a customer-centric approach. Peppers & Rogers Group co-founder Don Peppers said that being centered on the customer is essentially about knowing the viewpoint of the customer and looking out for their best interests.

In order to be able to do that, and to successfully problem-solve on their behalf, you need to apply the same basic rule you would to understanding any other relationship: Listen. How?

 

  • Train in active listening
  • Implement a robust feedback system
  • Poll your customers with meaningful questions
  • Speak with customers regularly.

 

  1. Visualize better customer focus.

 

Creating great visuals can drive home your primary concern with the customer and other ideals that underpin your culture. Solomon again uses the example of Ritz-Carlton related to this tactic. Employees are all expected to carry around the company’s “credo cards” (accordion-fold, laminated cards) throughout the work day.

 

Visuals are often text, as also seen with the highlighted Zappos core value that appears on each box. However, this conversion of values to imagery can also be the in-person colors used by the brand. FedEx uses orange shoulder belts in its delivery vans – cuing anyone who looks through the window that the driver is embodying the value of safety.

 

  1. Invest in a customer-centric company culture.

 

A well-run company will invest in recruitment and training, but many don’t actually put money or time toward conscientiously building their company culture.

HubSpot is so dedicated to the idea that customer-focused culture is valuable, it makes its Culture Code manual and manifesto publicly available.

 

Buffer is another company that places its customers at the center of its strategy, acknowledging strong customer service and using it as a source of motivation.

 

*****

 

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Good Content for Ecommerce SEO

How to Craft Ecommerce Content for Stronger SEO & Conversions

Kim runs an e-commerce site that sells cubic zirconia, diamond-alternative jewelry. She wants to get better organic search rankings for her company, and she understands that she can improve her search engine optimization through content marketing. Through her blog, social media posts, and other means, she hopes to improve her search visibility and ultimately sell more rings, necklaces, and pendants on her site.

Here are rules that Kim followed to retool her e-commerce content for better SEO and conversions.

 

Research to Narrow in on Titles and Topics

 

Market research has long been used to learn about what type of target demographic interests the people in your target groups. By adding SEO research to the mix, you are able to address more granular, specific concerns – what they want to know when they are searching online.

To really refine the path you take with content, speak with your customer service team to learn more about the types of questions that are asked the most often. The problem-solving that your staff performs every day for your customers should overlap with the ideas you get from search analytics; and when you start answering these questions effectively through your site, fewer people will contact support.

Since Kim’s company is a small startup, she handles the customer service herself with the help of an employee, Dale. Kim and Dale sat down and brainstormed 20 frequently asked questions. Kim then combined these questions with ones that she found from keyword research. These questions were then used for creating titles and generally building ongoing buckets of subject matter through which the blog would be developed.

 

Think Long-Term

 

Content is not so much a get-rich-quick scheme as it is a get-rich-methodically scheme. These articles are about giving people information in order to establish authority, trust, and rapport. Because e-commerce companies often have thin margins, it’s difficult to budget for something that won’t pay off for 6 or 12 months. However, since blogs can help you better connect with your audience, they can also sometimes make it possible to bump up your prices. That’s because people aren’t just price-comparing but are becoming more attached to your brand.

Kim was having trouble building content into her growth plan because she knew it was unlikely to deliver strong immediate returns. As a strategy to make up for the increase in costs represented by content, Kim delivered strong content for two months and then started raising her prices. At six months, the investment in the content started to pay back.

 

Make a Buyer’s Guide

 

The bottom-line rule for content marketing is just the same as it is for other aspects of your site: user experience. In the context of a blog article, the question is how you can make that article captivating and engaging – highly readable. One of the companies that has succeeded to the greatest degree with this tactic is River Pools and Spas. Although the company is fundamentally a brick-and-mortar company, their focus on answering customer questions led them to the top of searches for their industry – especially because they were willing to answer any question a customer might have. Those questions include addressing the price of your product or service, i.e., the question that’s answered by a buyer’s guide.

Using River Pools and Spas as a model, Kim developed a buyer’s guide for her store. Working with the blog on cost of inground pools that drew more traffic to the pool store than any other piece of content, Kim wrote the title, “Cubic Zirconia Jewelry Pricing and Cost Guide.” She then oversaw the writing of the guide to ensure that it was not written as a sales catalog but as a source of unbiased consultative information.

 

Put Up Lists of All Kinds

 

An analysis of 100 top-performing blogs (with great search rankings) found that fully 45% were numbered lists. Clearly, lists are correlated highly with strong SEO, but they are a great way to approach content for other reasons too: they’re relatively straightforward to compile, allow for easier skimming (how most people read blogs) and are readymade for sharing.

Kim wanted a good blend of different title formats, so she rephrased some of the frequently asked questions she had devised with Dale into lists and “how-to” articles (guides/tutorials), leaving some of them as simple questions. The result was a master list of article titles for the next few months.

 

Create a Long-Form Guide

 

Running an e-commerce site is all about balance. When you look at any task, you want to perform it well without overdoing it. However, it is important to realize that there is substantial value to going long with some of your pieces. A guide that is delivered as a blog or an ebook, something in the area of 5000 to 20,000 words, is a way for you to really become the authority figure for your niche. You want to think carefully about how broad or narrow your topic is for maximum impact. Also, don’t make the mistake of thinking you have to come up with all the ideas yourself. These guides are usually best constructed by combining your own perspective with ideas gathered from authority content.

As Kim considered what would make the best long-form guide for her business, she centered on “Everything You Need to Know About Cubic Zirconia Wedding Rings.” She then copy-pasted that title into Google and started to work her way through the results. Her initial research unveiled an article by a gemologist about the history of the compound; using that type of objective content, she would build the skeleton outline for her guide.

 

Use Descriptive Text

 

Search engines are always being improved. However, descriptive text is still a powerful way to let them know what your images and video are. In this way, you are recognizing that your content needs to meet the needs of both your customers and the search engines. Feeding the right information to Google and Bing will help them help you.

Kim started implementing better descriptions site-wide and anywhere else she’d posted content. She transcribed all her videos, wrote out information about all her pictures, and derived talking points from infographics to better explain them.

 

Always Be Closing

 

Selling is a basic aspect of an e-commerce shop that should never be forgotten, even when you are aiming for objectivity and transparency in your content. After all, you won’t just get shoppers to your site but searchers as well. If those searchers find valuable information in your content, they could end up buying as well – as long as you aren’t too salesy. Don’t be aggressively promotional. However, a call to action is necessary to guide searchers from your blog to your shop.

 

Kim started getting great rankings for her content a couple months in, better than she was getting for her e-commerce product and category pages. Luckily, she was well-prepared for that, with a call-to-action at the bottom of each piece. At the end of each blog, after she had talked about care of a cubic zirconia ring or discussed the differences between two types of stone arrangements, she would turn lightly to a short, 2-3-sentence paragraph at the end. This CTA would close with a link to a relevant page of her shop.

 

*****

 

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Business Testimonials

How to Get the Most Out of Business Testimonials

One of the first things most of us do when we evaluate a product or service is look for reviews. In fact, an incredible 90% of people reported that positive reviews make them likelier to buy, while 86% said that negative ones make them likelier to look elsewhere. In a similar poll, 88% of people said that they trust reviews as much as personal recommendations.

 

In other words, the opinions of other people who have already purchased your product or service are deeply important to convincing people to buy from you. The use of testimonials (statements from pleased customers) can give visitors a sense of the customer perspective right on your site, so that they can understand what the experience might be like once they’ve committed to your company.

 

Here are some thought-leader tips and legal recommendations for the use of testimonials:

 

  1. Build social proof into your business.

 

First, as a general rule, you want to think about all your existing customers as an opportunity to establish social proof to new ones. Cody McKibben of Thrilling Heroics advises to identify a dozen of your customers that are bringing the most revenue to your business. Ask them for feedback, and see if they have some positive things to say. Once you better understand which ones are particularly enthusiastic, you can take their comments and turn them into case studies or testimonials.

 

  1. Ask for details.

 

Your testimonials will be less compelling if all of them say, in so many words, that you’re great and your service is awesome – without going into any specifics of their journey with you. Ask your client to get granular with their experience, and to use exact data if they have it, explains Chris Garrett of Copyblogger. Instead of “Our sales grew enormously,” get them to zero in on the real impact, such as, “It increased our sales by 178% within 90 days.”

 

  1. Provide full information for the speaker.

 

Sometimes testimonials will say that “Mike” liked the product, or that “Susie (Topeka, KS)” thought your service was spectacular. How can anyone know if those comments are real or if those people even exist? Make it possible for visitors to your site to verify your testimonials through names and links to the happy customer’s social profile or website, suggests Juha Liikala of Stripped Bare Media. Few people will go beyond that step to confirm with the person that the comments are theirs; however, that simple effort to allow people to check your sources shows transparency and will make them feel more confident with your business.

 

  1. Select testimonials that discuss important benefits.

 

Sometimes testimonials can be strongly positive but off-focus in terms of helping you prove how helpful your product is, explains Derek Gehl in Entrepreneur. For that reason, when someone gives you a glowing response that is centered on nonessentials, it’s less helpful than when someone describes how it solved their problem. “It’s fun to hear that your super-duper floor cleaner smells nice or that the bottle doesn’t drip,” says Gehl. “But have you established that it cleans their floors well?”

 

  1. Highlight impressive customers.

Of course you want for all of your customers to be satisfied; but when you approach people for testimonials, says Firas Kittaneh of Amerisleep, the best ones are people whose names or companies will be recognizable to visitors. That’s especially the case if it’s someone who is an influencer within your demographic’s industry.

 

  1. Choose testimonials that compare.

 

When people are looking at your site and shopping for a new product or service, they are comparing you to everything else that’s out there. Because they are in that “comparison” mindset, it helps to show them statements that discuss what you offer in relationship to an alternative. For instance, a particularly strong testimonial will come from someone who was dissatisfied with a competitor before they became your customer. By using their perspective, you’ll establish how your product is preferable to another option that your prospective buyers might be considering.

 

  1. Be careful how much you groom them.

 

You want these comments to sound natural, and their organic nature can be lost if you do too much editing. “Those small grammar and language quirks help the reader connect and demonstrate they are real,” says Garrett.

 

  1. Showcase testimonials that overcome objections.

 

The sales process isn’t just about explaining what’s great about your service; i.e., explaining why the person should say yes to you. It’s about identifying ways in which it will not cause the customer any problems; i.e., describing why the individual should not say no. When you use testimonials, their strength in helping you sell will be improved if the customer discusses how they overcame their own objections – that they had concerns but ended up realizing they were in good hands.

 

  1. Create a page that is solely focused on them.

 

While it can help to feature testimonials on your homepage or elsewhere as pieces of a page, you also want to have a whole page that is focused on them entirely.

 

  1. Pick out testimonials that back up your claims.

 

What are the special capabilities of your product or service? How are you claiming that it is different and better than everything else that’s out there? Since you have a vested interest in the customer buying, they will take everything you say less seriously than anything they can gather from an objective third party.If you say your product can do something,” says Gehl, “your testimonials should back up your promises, complete with actual facts and figures.”

 

  1. Don’t make them up.

 

If you are just starting your business or think contacting your customers to get their thoughts could be a huge pain, you may want to skip that part of the process and just write some things you think a happy customer might say. Beyond being unethical, that route is also typically ineffective. Remember Mike and Susie from Topeka? Just like no one is likely to believe their thoughts are real (or that even the people are real), no one will probably be tricked by coming up with your own customer comments.

 

  1. [Legal] Testimonials should be accurate.

 

To continue with the ideas from #11, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) stipulates that whenever someone endorses your product or service (as in a testimonial), it should be factual. One aspect of accuracy is that it’s unlawful to highlight someone who had an unusually positive experience with your product if their results were atypical. If the results aren’t typical, that should be stated clearly in a disclaimer (which can be referenced through an asterisk with small print at the bottom of your page).

 

  1. [Legal] Get permission in writing.

 

Email your customer and ask them if you can use their comments. You need their OK in writing so that you aren’t put at risk if they later change their mind. Along the same lines, your terms and conditions can state that user reviews may be used in your marketing material.

 

  1. [Legal] Don’t copy-paste from Facebook.

 

Typically, a social media site will have terms and conditions stating that user-generated content is owned by the user. “[I]f you copy and paste the testimonial,” says Leah Hamilton in Kissmetrics, “you are infringing on the intellectual property rights of the person who wrote the review, which is not the best way to treat people who love your product!”

 

*****

 

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Excellent E-Commerce Customer Service

12 Principles for Excellent E-commerce Customer Service

One of the most important ways that businesses differentiate themselves from their competitors online is through the quality of their support. It’s an especially important part of success in e-commerce, since people are often using e-commerce because they want a convenient, fast and easy experience – so they want help to be immediate and effective when they need it.

 

Does this perspective toward the supreme importance of customer service sound inflated? Consider that more than three-quarters of consumers have abandoned a shopping cart because they became frustrated with the quality of service, according to statistics compiled by Help Scout. Plus, the aphorism that “bad news travels fast” holds true: word of a customer service failure gets to more than double the people that a service success does.

 

Since customer service is such a critical piece of your business, it’s wise to fine-tune it as much as you can. Here are some thoughts on customer service excellence:

 

#1 – Open by listening.

 

As is also true with sales and marketing, leading with the ear rather than the mouth can be a powerful way to connect and problem-solve, notes Jamie Carmichael of UK business directory Yell.com.

 

What is the customer saying? As you listen, make sure you understand what they want (with clarifying questions as needed) and provide your best expertise.

 

#2 – Give fast and accurate answers.

 

Obviously, the purpose of customer service is functional: people want answers and to move on with their days. One simple and straightforward way to solve problems faster is simply to be available at all times, 24/7. That way no one is ever having to check your hours and jot down a note to get in touch the next day; they can simply take action.

Typical ways that companies provide help 24/7 are through live chat and through content, such as a blog or a knowledge base.

 

#3 – Simplify the process to quit your service.

 

Make it easy for people to cancel your service whenever they decide that makes sense. Typically people have already decided they are going to close the account before they get in touch with you, so efforts to try to retain their business will often prove futile. Plus, if canceling is easy and respectful, they’re likelier to come back.

 

“[F]ollow up with a phone call or email or survey to determine the reason for their departure,” advises business coach Donna Guntner of Foxonlinelearning, “but don’t force them to go through this process to exit.”

 

#4 – It’s positive to provide brief explanations.

 

Despite the overarching effort to be as efficient as possible with customers, it’s also not entirely positive to feel that you want the interaction to be completed rapidly. It can be very helpful to express why something the customer wants can’t happen – what exactly it is that’s in the way. A little bit more time can humanize the experience more. Being as open as you can with your conversations makes the tone feel that you are people working together toward the same basic goals, rather than a sort of cog in an anonymous system.

 

#5 – Become an expert at apologizing.

 

When something goes wrong in a customer’s use of your service, accept blame as possible. That’s helpful, according to help desk software LiveHelpNow, because admitting to fault on your end can defuse potential conflict. Keep in mind that the customer may still walk away upset if you give them a refund. For cases in which your company was clearly in the wrong, apologize profusely and mention the steps that actually should have been taken by the company.

 

#6 – Be cautious about automation.

 

It makes sense why so many businesses are turning toward automation to solve many of their customer service issues: it’s highly affordable. However, as Carmichael notes, be aware that the result is often very expensive in terms of the user experience suffering. When someone is trying to move quickly, they may become frustrated talking with a bot – especially if the bot is malfunctioning or otherwise failing to properly address their issue.

 

#7 – Understand that each situation is unique.

 

You of course want to have standardized, cookie-cutter ways to solve the most common problems that arise. However, there will be times that the policies related to a particular product or service don’t apply. Watch our for these exceptions to your rules. You will earn trust and loyalty from customers by recognizing that their case is special and suggesting a customized solution.

 

#8 – Go to your customer for answers.

 

If you are having difficulty figuring out a solution, ask your customer for their perspective. They probably has something in mind that they feel would make sense given the circumstances. Even if that final answer is not exactly what you want, the customer may also feel that they are not getting exactly what they’d hoped.

 

Although it may be a compromise to zero in on something workable, this approach allows you ”to end on a positive note,” notes Guntner, “and while the customer may not return to you, he probably also won’t tell everyone he meets that you’re an ogre, either.”

 

#9 – Provide simple calls to action.

 

If your customer needs to take a set of steps, make sure that you convey instructions properly, and that everything is fully understood. You can deliver an extraordinarily streamlined and effective checkout process, but a customer or prospect may still leave irritated if you aren’t paying as much attention to your support.

 

How important are next steps? Carmichael actually suggests that every single time you talk to a customer who has a problem, you should close out the call with clear actions that should follow the call (on both sides, as applicable).

 

#10 – Be respectful and friendly.

 

Customer service should be infused with positivity. Greet them, use their names, and always express appreciation for their business. Be grateful, and consider building in a customer loyalty program and even setting aside an annual customer appreciation day.

 

#11 – Don’t over-reference your legal files, and make sure they aren’t excessive.

 

No one wants to have to leaf through a small-print agreement filled with difficult-to-decipher legalese to determine exactly what your stated policies are. Yes, you can fill your Terms of Service contract with parameters intended to protect you; but that will not always mean that the customer is happy in the end. In fact, it can be a good idea to highlight anything in those pages that might be unfavorable to a customer later.

 

#12 – Be amazing.

 

Customer service should be considered a central concern, not something that’s optional. It’s necessary to be thoughtful, and to set aside a substantial investment and time, if you want exceptional customer service – around which you can strengthen your brand. With each one-on-one interaction, bear in mind that the customer will feel incredible if they get the sense that you are taking extra steps to help them. “This feeling comes across not only in what you do, but how you do it and, perhaps more importantly, why you’re doing it,” explains Carmichael.

 

*****

 

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