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What would you learn if you had to use your own product or service?

Having just moved my home and company across the country, it’s time to reflect on the mountain of notes I took about different customer experiences throughout the process. So many things went right: the marketing and sale of our Massachusetts home, the financial advice of a new legal team in Nevada. Yet so many experiences didn’t go well at all. It was almost as if some vendors didn’t want to do business with us – or care how hard it was for us to even try.

It made me think of what chefs have always known: Before you serve it, eat your own soup first.

Do you “eat your own soup” regularly? I mean more than just sending surveys or reading testimonials from customers. Do you actually experience what it’s like to be a customer with you?

If not, consider testing yourself. Here are a few areas you might focus on:

Please respond! We’re trying to give you money.

It seems crazy, but we simply could not get vendors to respond to us. We’d call for a quote on something (a moving van, a security system, a carpenter, a shredding company) and were told someone would send us a quote; but over and over again, they never did. One company actually called us while we were in line at the airport to see if we still needed help. Other companies took days to respond to an email or message. It seemed incredibly absurd that companies – across the spectrum of industries – simply made it impossible to spend money with them. If there’s a lesson from our experience, it’s that the process of becoming a customer remains a huge challenge for customers. Companies that can refine and accelerate their process for capturing ready and willing customers should grab market share. 

Set reasonable expectations – and stick to them.

The amount of bait and switch in the marketplace is astonishing. Basically, we came to feel that the initial estimates of almost any vendor were all a game. It wasn’t just price, either. Service dates by contractors, follow up dates by service professionals, and commitment dates by firms big and small consistently proved to be fiction. Nobody could give a simple, clear answer of what, how much and when, for almost anything. In my business, it would be absurd: Imagine me telling a client I’d speak about “something” and would show up “on or about” the day of their event, and the fee would be “maybe this, maybe more.” If anything, companies that can review the promise points in their transaction process and drill it down on the consistency should run circles around their careless competition.

One of the weirdest challenges was the amount of “geek speak” vendors use. Trust me, the ordinary customer has no interest in the esoteric terms related to your industry. When you don’t use plain language, you lay the groundwork for mistakes and misunderstandings – not to mention making your customer feel stupid. If you can’t justify your value proposition without throwing meaningless vocabulary at the customer, try again. Review your paperwork, and your typical responses, along the conversation curve. Learn how to stop and ask if customers clearly understand. I cannot tell you how many vendors we decided not to work with, because we basically couldn’t understand them.

Be a bit more helpful than expected.

It would be great if you added a little extra to every transaction, but to be honest, what customers really want is something even simpler: A little willingness to “find out” something you don’t know already. I’m amazed at vendors who simply say, “Nope. Never seen that before. No idea.” It wasn’t just being honest; they declined to even offer suggestions. One example was Fedex, a global leader in shipping – unless, it turns out, you want to ship a computer. Sorry, no boxes that size. Sorry, we don’t pack them. Sorry, we have no idea where you can get a box or how you should pack it. So check for your “helpful moments” and empower your process to add “little extras” even if it’s beyond your normal scope of business.

Those are just a few from the pile of oddities we experienced. But they seemed to crop up over and over again, no matter the product or service. Most or all of them could have been avoided, if someone on the “other side of the process” had experienced their own process. Creating great customer experiences starts by knowing exactly what the customer is experiencing now – and then working to improve them. So consider taking the time to see firsthand exactly what it’s like in your customer experience – and find little places where small changes could make a delightful difference.