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Why Experience-First Entrepreneurs Win Consumers How entrepreneurs can win on experience and why this is so critical right now.

By Antonia Hock Edited by Chelsea Brown

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

No matter what business you are in, I guarantee that your customers are judging your business every single day on the experience that you provide. Much has been written on this topic, but we still see the majority of businesses big and small, in every segment, fail to consistently delight consumers with the service they deliver. As an entrepreneur, do not fall into the product trap. Yes, your product matters, and you need to ensure that it is high quality and well crafted, but improving the way you deliver it is how you will win repeat customers, social media accolades and even loyalty to the exclusion of your competition. You need to become an "experience-first" entrepreneur.

As a consumer who shops online a lot, I visit the physical UPS stores relatively often. I prefer one specific location in my geography for one reason: The store employees deliver an exceptional experience every time. They are polite, efficient, fun, and they remember me. They make smart choices in triaging customers who are in line, they balance speed with true care, and I watch them work as a team to ensure they deliver the best service. They remember my name and the companies that receive my packages. We laugh regularly, and they all have impeccable manners.

I have confidence that they will take the greatest care of my packages — no matter how complex the scenario. In short, they have demonstrated mastery of their product offerings, but the experience they deliver makes me seek out this location above all others. I am not alone in my preference. They always have a line, and everyone in it shares my preference to drive out of my way to come to this specific location. Experience wins!

UPS stores are independently owned and operated, and I know that this owner understands that loyalty is driven by experience. All of the UPS stores share the exact same offerings, so this one is highly differentiated on service. As an entrepreneur, you should be focused on product mastery, but the experience will ultimately drive revenue through consumer preference. But how do you execute an "experience-first" strategy? Here are a few tips:

1. Build a people-first culture that allows you to hire with a heart for service first

The best potential hires will have choices, and you want them to choose and stay with you. This will require you to have an internal culture where teamwork thrives, and it is fun to come to work. Think about empowerment, respect, and building creativity into your operating model. Then hire for these personal traits first. You can train the rest. This might mean thinking outside the box with your hiring practices. Bet on people with that heart for service first.

Related: 3 Ways to Build a Customer-Centric Company Culture

2. Invest in service behaviors that are clear about your values and commitments

You should define your service model by creating a framework that makes your service principles clear to all employees. For example, I recommend creating "steps of service" that outline the engagement model for each time anyone engages with a customer. Use their name! Greet them warmly! Fulfill their needs, and add something extra to every interaction! Think about what makes your employees and your brand unique. This should be consistently communicated and also implemented in every interaction. Involve your employees in the design and implementation, so they feel strongly about executing it as well.

3. Have a signature experience

Think about that one small thing that is going to be your hallmark, and create a culture with your employees where it is fun to execute that experience. Do you always engage a customer by remembering their order? Do you always write a special personal message on the top of the pizza box? Do you always walk them out and carry their dry cleaning to the car? Do you remember their loyalty with special rewards that are really meaningful to them? It is important to have a signature for your business that makes it memorable. Positive distinctive experiences are tied to positive memories, and those are tied to consumer loyalty.

Related: Why World-Class Customer Experience Will Be One of the Most Important Aspects of Your Business

4. Be consistent

A commitment to building great experiences is only as good as your ability to do it consistently over time. You want to develop a reputation for great service and special, signature experiences which can only be done if all of your employees execute your strategy every time. Keep your execution model simple, so it is easy to engage, remember and execute for everyone.

Entrepreneurs have a unique opportunity right now to seize the shifts in consumer behavior to capitalize on experiences. By investing in this "experience-first" model, not only can you win customers, but done well, you can also attract and retain employees who enjoy being involved in creating fun and engaging experiences for your customers — instead of just "doing the job." Increasing consumer preference for your businesses increases revenue potential, and lowering employee turnover by engaging employees lowers operating costs. In both cases, being intentional about the experience that you provide and implementing it with rigor and consistency is the "secret sauce" to standing out in your market!

Related: 12 Golden Rules for Customer Experience Strategy

Antonia Hock

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

Leadership and Transformation Expert

Antonia Hock is an award-winning futurist and expert on ground-breaking leadership and the future of consumer behavior. Her insights and best practices are sought out by leaders seeking to transform their human capital performance and drive sustainable competitive advantage with tangible results.

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

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