You know deep down that your customers should be at the centre of everything you do. But sometimes, it’s difficult to not get consumed by the day-to-day running of your business and the desire to grow it. As a result, your customers (unfortunately) take a back seat temporarily.

The bottom line, though, is that the most successful companies in the world are truly customer-centric. They reach out, communicate with and listen to the needs and wants of their customers continuously.

In an age where consumers are more connected, more informed and more confident than ever before, customer experience has emerged as the new business battlefield.

Not convinced? How about this for a statistic: By the year 2020 (less than two years away now), customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator, according to research by Walker Consultancy.

In fact, the same research indicates a whopping 86% of buyers are willing to pay more for a better customer experience.

But what is customer experience?

In a nutshell, customer experience can be defined as your customers’ perception of your brand and the way they feel your company treats them. It encompasses many different aspects – a reality in itself that presents a challenge for many businesses.

For example, while great products/services and competitive prices inevitably improve customer experience, poor after-sales service can undo all your hard work.

Your customers don’t stop being customers once they’ve bought your product or used your service, which is why the importance of after-sales service should never be underestimated. Ideally, you want your customers to become brand advocates and naturally recommend your business to their friends and family.

This has always been the case, but in recent times, with the rise in popularity of social media, it’s never been more important. That’s because a customer who feels let down can express their feelings on their favourite social network. What starts as a bit of a moan can soon spiral into a PR nightmare for a brand, depending on how it’s handled.

How to improve customer experience

Have great products/services

First and foremost, your products/services need to be great. In competitive marketplaces, it’s no good offering something that’s just average. For a start, not many people will buy it and then there are the potential after-sales headaches if the product breaks or the service isn’t up to scratch.

Understand your customer

Your customers can usually be categorised into different types. These groupings help you understand them better – what do they like, what do they dislike, what motivates them, what drives them to make a purchase?

With your customers’ personas defined, you can tailor different aspects of your offering (product, service, marketing, etc.) to appeal on a much more personal level.

Train your staff

A great customer experience relies on everyone – from employees to board members – understanding the importance of a customer-centric philosophy. That’s why a customer-focussed training plan is a must for your business. It doesn’t necessarily need to be in-depth and lengthy, but it does need to fully prepare the individual to deal with your customers.

Cherish customer feedback

Many companies seek customer feedback, but then fail to act upon it. If that’s the case, what’s the point of the exercise?

Remember, your customers’ opinions are far more important than your own when it comes to shaping your products/services.