Developing a specific and unique competitive advantage is crucial for business success. 

Over the years and in my work here at Xero, a company providing cloud accounting software, I’ve talked to thousands of small business owners and have found many believe that their company’s success relies solely on offering a superior product or service. Not entirely true. The often-overlooked key to success is not product-based and is actually more easily attainable for entrepreneurs than their larger corporate counterparts. It’s about creating such an unforgettably good experience that customers are loyal for life and will recommend your business to their friends and networks.

An amazing experience is truly what creates loyal customers and helps you make more money. Because they’re smaller and more nimble, entrepreneurs and small-business owners already have an advantage for achieving this competitive advantage. Here’s how:

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1. Wear your cu0stomer’s hat. Step into their shoes and ask yourself: What type of experience would I want? It’s more than simply avoiding negative experiences. it’s about creating a memorable one that will leave your customers wanting more. Map out your customer experience process: When do they first interact with your company? When do they stop? Extending the length of your customer’s experience will provide a greater opportunity to create a positive experience and build a strong relationship.

2. Don’t fight the feedback. There is no better way to determine what’s working and what’s not than hearing it from customers themselves. Direct customer feedback is valuable -- especially for new and emerging companies -- because they provide a significant opportunity to improve your company’s experience early on. Use existing review sites like Yelp, Facebook or Angie’s List to see what your customers have to say and determine the best way to improve their experience. Also, be sure to respond to your customers’ feedback to ensure their opinions are valued. And lastly, don’t neglect the negative reviews. Though they may seem like a bullet to dodge, negative reviews provide a valuable opportunity to address, salvage and potentially build a loyal (and profitable) customer relationship.

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3. Advise, don’t just supply. Instead of focusing on selling your product, offer expert advice on what’s best for your customers’ needs -- even if it’s outside of your product offering. This type of professional guidance will build trust with your customer and contribute to a positive experience and long-lasting relationship.

Just like in the classic movie Miracle on 34th Street, offer alternative options if your product is not what they’re looking for. This may result in a lost sale initially, but customers will remember your support and come back for repeat purchases in the future.

4. Work on the “unfun” parts. Many entrepreneurs focus primarily on their product or service, because it’s easier than thinking end to end. And simply put, it’s not always fun. However, the “unfun” parts typically require the most attention and are often the determining factor of a great customer experience. Start with identifying areas you frequently try to avoid. What’s the payment or billing experience like? What happens immediately after you finish the job itself?  Consider making small adjustments to improve the commonly dreaded payment process or schedule follow-up calls after you complete service. Your customers will appreciate the added attention and consider you a trusted partner rather than a one-time purchase.

5. Don’t be TOO efficient. Getting the job done quickly is a common priority. However, spending a few extra minutes to ensure your customer is fully satisfied will be worth it in the end by attracting customer referrals. People want to feel special.  Showing them extra attention will result in a positive experience, positive word of mouth and earned mindshare for your company overall. The opposite is also true: If customers feel rushed with no real, special attention they will walk away with a negative experience and probably won’t come back.

As a business owner, it’s critical to take advantage of any opportunity to get ahead in the industry. Though you may not have control of your competitors’ product advancements, you have complete control of your customers’ experience and ultimately, their loyalty. Take the time to provide an unforgettably good customer experience and it will pay off.

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