Small business owner creating great customer experience

An exemplary customer experiences means different things to different businesses. Speedy customer service, luxury packaging, unfailing courtesy and graciously accepting client feedback are all ways businesses keep customers coming back.

While these customer service tactics are each important in their own right, they’re also well-known and well-documented. What about the less-obvious ways your business may be turning off customers, without your even realizing it? Here are some sneaky, often-overlooked areas where businesses may want to sweep out the cobwebs and spruce things up to make a better impact on customers:

Does your website induce frustration?

We’ve all experienced bad websites. They come in different varieties: They don’t function on a smartphone or tablet. They’re impossible to navigate. They make it incredibly hard to purchase an item. They bury the most important information, or the info is out of date. They’re full of annoying pop-ups and spammy ads. The login process is a nightmare. And that’s just to name a few missteps!

Focusing on user experience

Don’t let your website be one of these horror stories. A bad website or, worse, no website at all will turn off customers faster than you can imagine. This is why it’s imperative that you consider the user experience (UX) — the way visitors actually interact with your website — when you build a new website or reevaluate the one you have right now. The goal is to create an experience that is tailored to your visitors and their needs. There shouldn’t be any obstacles in the way of them finding the information they’re looking for. Here are some questions to ask yourself as you consider your website:

  • Is it easy to see which products or services you offer?
  • Is all of the information up to date?
  • Are the design elements in line with current trends?
  • Does your website look legitimate and professional? (E.g., is there a consistent color scheme? Is your logo on your website? Is everything spelled correctly?)
  • Is the website language easily understood by end users, or are you using industry-specific terminology that might be difficult for an average consumer to decipher?
  • Are any links or buttons broken?
  • Can your website be viewed on mobile devices?
  • Does it take a long time for the website to load?
  • Is your contact information easy to spot?
  • How many clicks does it take to get to your primary call to action (CTA)?
  • Is there too much text?

A professional, fully functioning website is one of the pillars of reputability in this day and age. Customers will hesitate before returning to a website that provides a lousy experience. If they even consider returning, that is.

How to fix it:

  • Test your website for usability. Ask friends, relatives or colleagues who haven’t been to your website to help by visiting it on different devices and attempting to do different things like order an item, create an account, submit a request, find contact information, etc. If they run into trouble, update your site, stat. A good website sometimes doesn’t even have to do much, as long as it looks good on every device and provides the information customers are looking for — whether that’s details on products and services, contact information or menus.
  • Look at what your competitors are doing. What do your competitors’ websites look like? What elements do all of their websites have in common? Is there anything your website is missing? Consider replicating what seems to be working for them. It may also be helpful to look at what a larger business in your industry — that may not be a direct competitor — is doing. A small coffee shop, for example, may want to look at Blue Bottle’s website.
  • Declutter your design. No one wants to look at a wall of text. Having white space or empty space on your website makes it easier for people to digest the information that you’re sharing — it gives their eyes a break. Get rid of unnecessary information. Keep sentences as simple and direct as possible. Break content up into sections.
  • Be consistent. The language, design, navigation and branding should be consistent throughout your site. When they aren’t, you look unprofessional and it’s distracting. You want visitors feel at ease while they’re scrolling through your site. You don’t want them to feel confused about who you are, what you do or what they can expect from your business.

Does your exterior encourage customers to keep going without stopping?

Is the signage outside your place of business outdated, illegible or simply nonexistent? Does a lack of windows or a failure to keep the outside premises tidy signal to customers you’re just not interested in getting them through the door? Certain establishments (dive bars and hole-in-the-wall eateries come to mind) may be able to rock a “no sign, no windows” look. But for most small businesses, it’s crucial to announce yourself to current and potential customers. But more than that, your exterior should reinforce that customers are making the right decision by stepping inside. No one wants to enter a business that seems foreboding or unwelcoming.

The exterior of Bluff City Outdoors, one of the six Alton, Illinois, businesses selected for a Small Business Revolution revitalization, was unintentionally uninviting. In fact, the building appeared closed to cars and pedestrians going by, even when the shop itself was open for business. This was a major turnoff to existing and potential customers.

How to fix it:

Books may not get judged by their covers, but businesses do. Take the following steps to make the right impression:

  • If necessary, update your signage, or invest in signage if you don’t have any. Your sign should be legible (large enough for both pedestrians and drivers to notice), and it should reflect who you are as a business. If you have a logo (and all businesses should), make it an integral part of your signage. Bluff City outdoors had a new logo designed, and then incorporated it into signage on the building and a larger sign that can be viewed from the street.
  • Ensure the exterior of your business matches the interior. Ideally, a whimsical boutique would look like one from the outside, while a medical or dental office would look just as immaculate and professional from the street as it does in the waiting room. It also nice when the color scheme on the exterior and interior matches. If blue is your brand color, you may want to have blue storefront awning outside and blue accents inside the building.
  • Most importantly, keep your exterior inviting. If you have the budget (or elbow grease) to keep windows clean, the paint gleaming and the parking areas and walkways well-lit after dark, by all means do so. If you don’t have a system or service in place to handle these items, try to find the resources to make them a regular part of running your business.

Does your business’s interior detract from the quality of your products or services?

You keep your office, restaurant or business showroom clean. That’s all that really matters when it comes to decor, right? While an untidy business can make a prospective customer do an immediate about-face, there are many other interior design and layout missteps that you may have overlooked.

Creating an inviting space

What is the lighting like in your building? Is it harsh and yellow, or bright and flattering? You want your customers to be able to find what they need. You also want them to feel safe and comfortable. You want your items to look attractive. Proper lighting can go a long way toward helping you accomplish these goals.

Have you thought much about layout? Is there a logic to it, with similar items grouped together? Is there enough room for customers to comfortably navigate the space? To encourage people to make a purchase, you need to make it easy for them to get around. Any obstacles — a confusing layout, tight spaces, etc. — will simply frustrate them.

Do your countertops, shelving units, desks or tables need to be updated? What worked for you several years ago may seem old-fashioned to today’s consumer.

How to fix it:

Find the right floor plan. You don’t have to have a natural interior design sense to create a floor plan that flows well. If you’re confused about how to organize the space, visit a competitor. What’s working for them? What isn’t? See what you can borrow and what you can improve upon.

Listen to your customers. Do you find that customers are having trouble locating particular items? If so, rethink your displays. You should also ask your customers about their experience with your business. Whether you talk to them at the register or front counter, or send them a survey via email, you should try to find out ways that you can provide them with a better experience when they visit you.

Put your business’s personality on display. When customers walk into your business, they should instantly get a sense of your brand identity. Think about what the style of your front desk or register says about your business? What about the color scheme? Are you projecting the right image? A bait and tackle shop like Bluff City, for example, wouldn’t want to hang their fishing poles on elegant, ornate display units.

Experience your business the way your customers do

Above all, try to see, hear, feel and, yes, even smell your business from the vantage point of your customers. What you’re accustomed to may be a turnoff to them. Improved websites and a closer eye on exteriors and interiors can do wonders for putting your customers first — which means they’re more likely to return.

Not a marketer? Not a problem.

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