“There’s no substitute for experience.” This is a phrase we hear often in business and our wider lives. But while this commonly refers to choosing people or a company to provide a service, shouldn’t the phrase also apply to the experience your customer receives?

Without customers, businesses would not exist. The customer experience they receive at your hands matters most when you’re aiming to drive repeat custom. In my own experience, there are several factors you need to consider:

Assess what you provide vs. what your customer wants

In many businesses, their service yields a tangible result. For example, a plasterer should leave you with smooth, level walls and ceilings ready to be painted. For other types of businesses, results will be less concrete.

Take time to understand what your customer is looking to achieve, and ask open questions which allow them to define clearly what outcome they require. If you consider a different approach or product would be more beneficial, be confident to challenge their view, and back yourself up with reasoned considerations.

That said, don’t overrule them unless the customer’s demands are dangerous or unreasonable. Instead, look to highlight the concerns you have with their request and how another approach could be more suitable for them.

Make the start of the customer experience feel like a partnership, not as an expert and novice dynamic.

Manage timescale expectations

Don’t commit to a timescale you can’t achieve with certainty. All too often I hear of businesses taking on too much work due to a fear of potentially losing customers. Think about the best restaurant or café in your town – it only has a certain number of seats for customers. What would you rather the manager say to you when you ask for a table: “We’re pretty full at the moment, so you could be looking at a 40-minute wait” or “Take a seat at the bar and we’ll find you a table as soon as we can”?

The first allows the customer to make an informed decision based on honesty – wait or come back another day. The second might cause customer frustration by letting them assume it could be just a short wait.

If customers value the experience they receive from you, they will be prepared to wait to receive it. Years ago, it would have been unheard of for restaurants to allow only walk-ins, with limited table bookings on Friday and Saturday nights. But now it’s not uncommon to have customers waiting outside in all weathers because they desire the experience they know they will receive.

Overdeliver where you can

It’s a given that you must deliver the service that’s required – but consider whether there’s anything else you can include that would please the customer, at little extra cost to you. Think back to the plasterer example. If there’s some plaster left and a few small cracks or holes in different walls to the ones you’ve been plastering, why not ask your customer if they’d like you to fill them? Or if you’re painting the outside of a house and you’re at gutter level, check the gutters to see if they’re blocked as an extra way to help.

This is easier to do with a physical service rather than a product, but if you look at your business you will find areas where this could be possible. If you’re selling technology products, perhaps offer your customer access to your Wi-Fi to set it up with your guidance, or fit the phone case to their phone and so on. If you’re a restaurant approaching closing time, offer the customer a starter on the house rather than wasting them at the end of the day.

Communicate even if it’s bad or no news

The “sound of silence” from a supplier is deafening to a customer. Respond to customers promptly and have a system in place to ensure that no incoming communication is missed. Even if you receive a voicemail intended for another business in a different sector, call that customer back and advise that they have the wrong number – they could be your customers of the future.

I know I have talked about managing timescales being important, but things will happen that are outside of your control, which can cause delays and may cause deadlines to be missed. If this happens, engage with the customer at the earliest opportunity to adjust the timescales and explain the reason for the delay.

If you promise to give a customer a call back or an update on a certain day, make sure it happens even if you have no new news to share. I’ve had to do this many times in my working life and, while the customer can be frustrated by the delay, they have always appreciated the call.

Ask for feedback, listen to it and adjust

There are so many ways to ask for feedback. It often happens post-sale, automated by various platforms and social media sites.

This doesn’t mean you don’t have to check back in with the customer. You should always check that they are happy with how things are progressing – and they might wish to alter what was agreed. For example, this could be especially true for professions such as landscape gardeners – you could remove existing foliage and find something hidden which the customer didn’t mention in their brief to you, such as old stonework. Your customer would want (and appreciate) you to check before you remove it.

With the current cost of living crisis, customers are faced with difficult choices when it comes to what experiences they invest in. It’s important that the experience your business delivers continues to be market-leading to ensure your customers continue to use and recommend you.

The team that delivers this experience is just as important – and I look forward to exploring this topic in my next column.

Photo by UX Indonesia on Unsplash


Tim Weymouth

Tim is a highly experienced Client Director within the Howden London office, managing an extensive portfolio of both client and insurer relationships. He’s worked in insurance for 19 years, all within Howden and predecessor companies. Tim has provided comprehensive insurance solutions for UK commercial clients of all sizes and types, as well as government organisations. He firmly believes in forming effective triparty relationships between clients, Howden and our insurer partners, ensuring they all work together to minimise the risks clients face to allow them to thrive whatever challenges they encounter.

Tim enjoys writing regular, informative insurance-related articles on behalf of Howden’s Commercial division, and also hosts The Risky Business podcast for Howden.

He lives in Tiptree in Essex with his wife and three children, and holds voluntary Board positions outside of his role at Howden, as a Governor at his local secondary school and golf club.

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