Columnists, Patrick Miller, V3I4

Customer Experience is the Key to Success

Small business owners often feel overwhelmed by marketing because there are so many things to pay attention to. It’s hard to know what to prioritize.

Not only are there hundreds of potential ways to spend money, there are always new and exciting tools being introduced that you feel you need to familiarize yourself with. What does the future of marketing hold for small businesses? What’s the magic bullet that will help us grow and accomplish our goals? It’s easy to get distracted by the latest developments and spend precious time and money on things that don’t grow your business.

Fortunately, there are some good old-fashioned practices from the past you can implement that can set you apart from the pack and help your business grow. I’m talking about customer experience marketing.


There was a time when customers depended on businesses for information on the goods and services they provided. With the proliferation of the internet, that’s no longer the case.

You may remember years ago when it was time to buy a new refrigerator, you drove to your local appliance store sometime between the hours of 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. (Monday through Friday) and talked to the appliance salesperson about refrigerators. The salesperson was the source of knowledge, and he would share that knowledge with you to help you make a decision about which refrigerator was right for your family. He would review the capacity, the energy usage, the cost, the warranty, the brand’s reputation, and more.

Perhaps you visited a competitor’s appliance store another day and talked to the salesperson there. She would tell you much of the same information, but she would try to guide you toward the refrigerator that she was most excited about selling.

At the end of your shopping experience, you made a decision, placed your order, and went home to wait on your new refrigerator. Delivery was scheduled a week or two down the road, and then you could finally enjoy your new refrigerator. If you were unhappy with your experience, you told a few friends and family about your negative experience, and they likely steered clear of that appliance store.

That’s not how appliance shopping works today. The customer is king because he or she has access to all the information. The internet has shifted the balance of power across many different channels, including small business. Customers can now educate themselves about every aspect of the item they are shopping for, as well as read reviews that other customers have posted online.

The last time I bought an appliance, it was a dishwasher. I started out online, with my smartphone, and looked at customer reviews. I checked out which brands had the best reputation at an affordable price point. I tried to figure out which features were necessary and which ones were superfluous. This process took less than a day. Our old dishwasher was broken, and I didn’t want to do the dishes, so I gathered information as quickly as possible. I had to make a decision within a day or two.

When I was ready to buy, I drove to the appliance warehouse store that had the model in stock, bought it, and put it in the back of my SUV. I took it home, pulled out the old dishwasher, and installed the new one. How did I know how to install a dishwasher you ask? Have you heard of YouTube? That’s right—I had the information, so I had the power. I was the king. Did I mention that this purchase happened on a Sunday afternoon?

The business that got my money that day had the model I wanted, in stock, ready for pickup, and they were open when I wanted to shop. I didn’t have to wait. I wasn’t at the mercy of an expert salesperson. I didn’t have to wait a week for an installation because I had the information.

This change is a little disorienting, but you can use this change to your advantage if you align your business closely with your customer’s needs. By super-serving them and exceeding their expectations, you can create a true fan that will broadcast their love for your business online and off.


Amazon will likely be the first company in history to reach a $1 trillion valuation. They have taken advantage of the “customer is king” mindset and have used it to absolutely obliterate their competition and they continue to transform the retail landscape every year.

Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos says, “We’re not competitor obsessed; we’re customer obsessed. We start with what the customer needs and we work backwards.” He also says, “If you make customers unhappy in the physical world, they might each tell six friends. If you make customers unhappy on the internet, they can each tell 6,000.”

Bezos recognized that customers can not only use the internet to be fully informed about products, they can also use the internet to spread the word to the world about their experience with a business. He has plowed his profits back into Amazon year after year in a quest to get ever closer to the customer. Just last week Amazon announced that they were acquiring high-end grocery chain Whole Foods for nearly $14 billion—no doubt an effort to continue to serve customers better by being physically closer to them.

Like Bezos, find ways to take advantage of the fact that customers have the internet in their pocket, and that they are in control. You can walk away from your competition by taking a customer-centric approach to your digital presence, product design, internal systems, and production and delivery processes.


It can be tempting to take comfort in the fact that you provide a good product at a fair price, and that you keep your word to your customers. In this new environment, there is no time to take comfort in such mundane practices. These are things you must do merely to earn a seat at the table. These basics of good business are simply the buy in, the price of admission if you will.

To win in this environment, we must go well beyond that. We have to knock the socks off of our customers every time and at each step of the customer journey.


To attract customers to you today, and to take advantage of your customer’s ability to spread the good news about you online, you have to create opportunities to be remarkable.

Seth Godin talks about “remarkability” in his 2003 book Purple Cow. The opposite of a remarkable product or experience is not a bad product or experience. Many businesses create perfectly fine products, but they don’t stand out from their competition in any meaningful way. Like I said earlier, being excellent is a basic requirement for being in business. To be remarkable, you have to go further.

You can create this remarkable experience when you recognize that the customer has all the information and most of the power, and you brainstorm ways to pleasantly surprise them. Develop processes in your business that make it second nature to do things that put a smile on your customer’s face and make them remember you.


Before you invest thousands in the latest innovation that is supposed to help you grow your business, take some time to walk through each step of the customer journey and see if there’s a way to improve the experience and create some remarkability.

This often means leading your team toward a culture of customer centricity. Team members who disparage customers, or are short with customers on the phone, are indications that your culture is not customer centric.

Three things that you should do as a team leader:

1. Lead by example, and invest in creating a customer-first culture.
2. Put processes in place that create great habits—habits that cause customers to be delighted.
3. Customers should be surprised and delighted from before they know they need your product, to long after you’ve delivered your product.

If you do these things, customers will talk about you. They’ll not only tell their friends about you, they will also post glowing reviews about you online.
This is the very best kind of marketing. Not only do you grow your business, but you and your team will reap the benefits of being part of a great culture every day.


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