A better experience almost always trumps a lower price.
Most small businesses aren’t really built to compete on price. Thanks to economies of scale, large corporations normally have the upper hand there.
But a lower price isn’t the only quality that attracts customers. In a lot of cases, buyers are looking for the company that offers the best overall experience, and that’s an area where—with a little hard work and creativity—smaller operations can challenge the big guys.
Just ask Yosef Shuman, the lead service designer at Volcanic, a Kansas City-based consultancy that helps businesses create better experiences for their customers. He talked to Thinking Bigger Business about the concept of service design—the idea that customer experience can be created and refined, just like physical products are deliberately designed.
If you’re serious about offering a better experience to customers, here are three things you should know.
Empathy is essential // To improve the customer experience, you need a solid understanding of clients’ needs, wants and frustrations. That’s why Shuman and other service designers spend a lot of time interviewing and shadowing customers, employees, managers and company owners.
“You have to have empathy for your stakeholders in order to design for them,” he said.
A good first step is to ask your customers for their feedback. “If you ask them, or if you tell them their opinion matters,” Shuman said, “they would love to give you an earful.”
When you get that feedback, listen. Don’t be defensive about complaints. Instead, look at them as opportunities to improve your service experience.
Customer service is not the same as service design // Customer service—how your company treats customers—is definitely part of the service experience. But it’s not the same thing, Shuman said.
Take Blockbuster, for example. Your neighborhood store could have employed the most helpful clerks in America. But you’d still have to take time to physically drive there whenever you wanted to rent a movie—and then bring it back two days later.
That experience couldn’t compete with the convenience and choice offered by Netflix and other streaming services, which provide viewers a huge library of viewing options from the comfort of their own homes, Shuman said.
Take baby steps // It’s usually better to experiment with a small change than to try to completely reinvent your service experience, Shuman said. Sometimes the tiniest adjustments can deliver impressive results. Just look at organ donations.
Some countries have high participation in donor programs, while others lag. Researchers determined that countries where people have to deliberately sign up for the program—even if it’s as simple as checking a box—have enrollment rates that were often below 20 percent.
But flip it so people have to opt out, and the rate of enrollment is typically 98 percent or higher, Shuman said.
That one small change had a huge impact. And that’s the great news about service design. Any organization can undertake a “baby steps” project with minimal investment of time and effort—including small businesses like yours.