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3 Ways to Connect With Your Customers and Improve Their Experience Follow these tips to create stronger, long-lasting relationships with your customers.

By Cheri Beranek Edited by Amanda Breen

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Most leaders understand that data-driven business processes let you see problems before they have a chance to occur so you don't have to scramble to design solutions when they do. In the same way, providing proactive customer service that invests in the customer experience before, during, and after the sale results in fewer and more manageable problems down the line.

Setting a foundation of the best quality offering of your service or good is a great way to invest in the before stage. To ensure you have a regimented and trackable procedure that determines the customer experience during a sale, invest in sales organization and team training. Then, after the sale, field service and support are there to continue to service their needs and, if necessary, clean up any mistakes. Remember, your customer will remember how you fixed a mistake far more than the mistake itself.

Along the way, listen — and I mean truly listen — to what your customers want, and use that data to improve the customer experience at all stages to extend their lifecycle with your company.

There are three main steps to follow to make sure you get it right.

Related: 4 Ways to Boost Customer Experience (And Thus Hold Onto Your Clients)

1. Implement practices, not policies

With before, during and after the sale in mind, establish customer service practices rather than policies, and take responsibility for every phase of their experience. A policy should only become active when legally required in response to a certain request.

For example, a customer tries to make a return and you tell him or her, "It's not our policy to return that item." Policy activated. But policy becomes a shield, letting you hide behind someone else's bigger, more binding decision, and it can cause discomfort in the customer experience.

A practice, on the other hand, is a particular mode in which you always operate, giving you the power to determine when situations might warrant an exception. Following regular company practices allows for more flexibility when certain situations demand it. Policy says, "I'm going to put up a wall that prevents resolution." Practice says, "I'm going to work with you on this," and customers appreciate that.

Related: Is Poor Customer Experience Person-Related or Policy-Related?

2. Keep your promises

If you make a promise, be sure you can keep it. Making a promise that you know you might have to break may get you short-term solutions for today's problems, but it comes with bigger service issues down the line.

The supply chain is causing problems for everyone these days, but especially for customer service. With so much beyond their control, I see my team struggling to service their accounts: Resins are unavailable, the ships can't get into port, trucks are sitting without drivers, and customers end up without items they need.

We recently had a significant order for drop cables that had some unique specifications. We gave the word of not only the salesperson, but also the team behind that person that we would deliver. However, a component supplier had promised us a delivery date that it knew it couldn't keep. As a result, no one got what they needed, and everyone was upset and looking for someone to blame. Anyone can be understanding about a situation beyond his or her control, but broken promises with a customer are much harder to mend.

Instead of making promises, be transparent about the things that are outside of your control.

Related: 12 Golden Rules for Customer Experience Strategy

3. Admit when you're wrong

It takes a lot of courage to admit that you were wrong about something, but when it comes to dealing with customers, accepting this responsibility makes a world of difference. When we realized that the delay in components would push us to miss our drop cable customer's deadline, our chief technology officer called their technology team directly and gave them the plain facts about the problems we were encountering on our end. Instead of the relationship crumbling due to a lack of trust, the customer felt included and had faith that we would keep them in the loop. Even if it wasn't the ideal outcome at the time, we now serve that customer on an ongoing basis.

There's nothing worse for customers who feel they have a legitimate case than to have service representatives refuse to admit when they're wrong. Even if the representative grants the request, the customer can leave the experience feeling like he or she was asking for some undeserved favor. Taking responsibility when you're wrong, on the other hand, levels the playing field and opens up the opportunity to work toward resolution. If you can be strong enough to recognize a mistake, take that extra step and apologize — and mean it. Some people are afraid to say, "I'm sorry." Others say the words way too often. In both cases, the result is a shallow experience. When a representative can convey an honest apology for an inconvenience, customers feel heard and believe their concerns are recognized.

To truly understand people, how they provide service and work with others, and the underlying forces behind that, leaders need to connect with them at each layer of the company, and that includes their customers. One of the greatest challenges for leaders is forgetting that customers are people, not companies. With today's explosion of broadband and fiber deployment, my team has to remember that our customers are all just people trying to meet deadlines, not the faceless company names we hear in the news. You need to know what your customers deal with and how they represent their own company to connect with them and understand what affects them if you want to be a good partner. If you deal with the person at the company and follow the three steps above, you will have better relationships with your customers for years to come.
Cheri Beranek

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

CEO of Clearfield

Cheri Beranek is the CEO of Clearfield and a 2023 EY National Entrepreneur of the Year award winner. Under her leadership, Clearfield has grown from a concept to a market cap of more than $500 million, providing optical-fiber management and connectivity solutions across North America.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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