The customer experience is vital to any business. It affects the chances of customers’ returning and how word of mouth spreads about your company. So what is the customer experience, and what can you do to make sure it is perfect?

What do we mean by customer experience?

On its surface the customer experience is exactly what it seems, the experience a customer has when buying your product or service. To be useful, though, we need a deeper and broader definition.

For marketing purposes, we think of the customer experience as including all interactions that customers, and potential customers, have with your business. It’s an end-to-end concept, beginning when someone first looks for your product, or one like it, and ending long after the sale is completed.

Stages of the customer experience

Some parts of the customer experience are obvious; a customer is in your shop, on your website or using your product or service. By this point, however the customer experience has already begun, and it will not end for some time afterwards. There are three key stages to the customer experience:

  • Pre-sale experience

The customer’s experience of your business starts before they step foot into your shop or access your website. In fact, it begins when they first hear about you. This might be by seeing an advert, being told about a friend’s experience, or even when they first think that they might need a service like yours.

If people struggle to find your website or shop, they may never become customers. If friends who have used your product talk of it in glowing terms, they may actively seek you out. Having heard of you they then need to find you, or they cannot buy your product.

  • The Sale

Every business is unique, and perhaps never more so than at the point of making a sale. The process can be as simple as the customer seeing that you stock milk, checking the price and paying for it, or as complicated as spending months forming a relationship and discussing needs before commissioning a construction project worth millions.

Even at those extremes the process is similar, discovering what the customer’s needs are, and showing that you can meet them. This is the part of the customer experience that turns potential customers into actual customers.

  • Aftersales

The aftersales process covers another wide range of situations. It may include the time while the customer is using your product, as well as the immediate feelings that they encounter after that point. It also covers how they feel when they remember your product or service, and the way that they talk about it to others, if at all. The aftersales experience is vital to turning previous customers into repeat customers, and harnessing the power of word-of-mouth.

How can you manage the customer experience?

We called this article “every detail counts” for a reason: the customer experience really does include every detail. To get the best results for your business, you must make sure you address every point that matters to your customers. We’ve blogged before about customer personas, and they are a great tool for managing the customer experience.

  • Make yourself easy to find

Before the sales process can start, you need to be advertising in the places that your potential customers are looking. Only the most niche of businesses can get away with making their customers work hard to find them. By using advertising platforms like Google Ads or Facebook, you can even have your company details appear when people search for terms that indicate they might need your business. Additionally, a Google My Business listing offers a free way to make sure customers can see photos, reviews and directions to your shop.

  • Be Welcoming

Whether your sale takes place on a website, over the phone or in a shop, make sure your customers can access it. If it is too difficult to reach you then many potential customers will simply give up. Think about accessibility as well, by making sure that your shop is accessible to wheelchair users, or your website is compatible with screen-readers for visually impaired users, you not only make sure that you do not discriminate, but you increase the size of your potential market.

  • Tailor the sales process to the product

Customers approach buying different products with different expectations. The person who fills you with confidence when you are spending £50,000 on a new car might not have the same effect when you show up for a new yoga class. Think about what your customers expect from the sales experience, and try to match each part of it. Market research is a key tool here, try talking to your existing customers and looking at who uses your competitors.

  • Follow up

There are two key elements that you should remember to follow up on, especially if you offer a long-term product such as a car, software-as-a-service (SaaS), or a course of therapy. The first element is to check whether the customer is able to use the product. “Is there anything I can help you with?” is a powerful question in these situations, as it allows a customer to come forward with a question that they may have been shy to ask. These questions can also inform the way you present your product in the future. Also make sure to ask whether they would recommend you, and if not to find out why.

This is, of course only a brief introduction to some key points of the customer experience. What do you find makes the difference to your customers’ experience?