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4 Steps to Ensuring Customer Experience Comes First Fashion the touch points and interactions so critical for captivating today's empowered consumers.

By Jesse Torres

entrepreneur daily

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Thanks to the Internet and social media, today's customers, armed with websites, blogs and peer-to-peer recommendations, are more knowledgeable and demanding than their counterparts at any time in history.

As such, successful entrepreneurs must not only deliver a high-quality product or service. They must do so in a manner that provides a memorable experience to win over and retain these customers.

Recently on my KCAA Money Talk radio program, Miles Dinsmoor, CEO of digital advertising firm Modus Operandi, advised about customers: "Make sure that you are giving them a premium experience and that you are really answering their questions about the product."

As Deepa Prahalad and Ravi Sawhney's Map the Future of Design for Enhanced Customer Experience suggested, "The key to developing truly breakthrough products and services can be found in first understanding the consumer experience and then innovating meaningful ways of transforming it."

"As boundaries blur between product, service and brand experiences, marketing leaders need to look to customer experience as an integrated digital strategy," Gartner digital marketing analyst Jake Sorofman wrote. "Today, customers expect exceptional branded moments on the path to purchase and over the longer arc of a customer relationship."

Yet for Forrester Research analyst Harley Manning, customer experience simply comes down to "how customers perceive their interactions with your company."

Entrepreneurs seeking to win and retain customers must take the time to thoughtfully analyze each point of interaction, including the company website, call center, marketing collateral, product warranty, service guarantee, return policy along with the shipping experience, and ask, "With respect to this touch point, am I delivering what my customer wants and expects from me?"

Here are four ways to improve the customer experience:

Related: Gaining Customers' Trust Can Be Your Checkmate

1. Be trustworthy.

"Can your customers trust your organization?" Colin Shaw asked on the blog of customer-experience consultancy Beyond Philosophy. "Can they trust you that you won't rip them off? Can they trust you to deliver the service you promise?"

Every day companies have a chance to demonstrate their commitment to their brand's promise. Trust takes time to build but can be shattered in an instant.

Entrepreneurs must ensure that their policies, procedures and people work in alignment and that every touch point is optimized so that their firms deliver on the promises of customer service, accessibility, delivery time and quality.

2. Set priorities.

"As much as everyone wants to listen to every piece of customer feedback and solve every possible customer issue right from the start, it's just not practical ... on day one," the blog of Clarabridge, a customer experience management solution provider, noted.

Entrepreneurs must prioritize which touch points will be improved and focus first on those bringing a chance of quickly gaining clients or harboring the risk of losing current customers.

"Even the biggest brands really cannot participate in all areas equally at the same time," Dinsmoor warned, advising figuring out "which channels are your audiences on the most, what are they doing there and then picking and choosing the strategy accordingly."

Related: The Tech Surge That's Putting Consumers in the Forefront

3. Get closer to customers.

Becca Ramble described on PR software firm Cision's blog how some companies have dramatically transformed their communication style and outlook, shedding the "us vs. them" approach. They have created "a customer-centric culture where you seek to understand and welcome 'the voice of the customer' to the table and where you are defined by the level, quality and breadth of service provided to customers and the experience they have doing business."

This requires companies become acquainteed with their prospective customers and what gives them the warm and fuzzies.

Entrepreneurs doing business online can access plenty of analytics to generate a profile of customers. Companies with offline sales can rely on traditional surveys and sales data to glean information about the typical customer.

Guided by the customer profile that's developed, determine if the various touch points provide the necessary service and information.

4. Measure progress.

Forrester Research vice president Kerry Bodine explained to the International Customer Management Institute how entrepreneurs should use metrics to gauge the customer experience.

To assess how consumers feel about the company (using perception metrics), ask questions like "Did we meet your needs? Were we easy to do business with? And were we enjoyable to do business with?" Bodine said.

Bodine also advised use of outcome metrics to figure out future customer behavior by asking questions like "How likely are you to buy from us again? How likely are you to recommend us to a friend or colleague? How likely are you to take your business to a competitor?"

Related: Customer Experience Should Not Be the Job of Just One Person

Jesse Torres

Speaker, Thought Leader, Influencer, Radio Host and Author

Jesse Torres of Manhattan Beach, Calif., hosts the Money Talk radio program on KCAA and is co-creator of entrepreneur-focused YouTube channel Two Men In Your Business. He has held leadership and executive management posts at financial institutions. The Independent Community Bankers of America named him a top community banker influencer on social media. The author of several books, Torres is a frequent speaker at financial and leadership conferences.

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