In this edition of Business Basics, we’re talking to Paul Russell, co-founder and director of Luxury Academy London, a multinational private training company with offices in London, Delhi, Mumbai and Visakhapatnam. Specialising in leadership, communication and business etiquette training for companies and private clients across a range of sectors, Paul has also worked in a variety of leadership roles across Europe, America, Asia and the Middle East.
From competing with bigger brands to embracing digital technologies, Paul provides plenty of insight into how small businesses can create and deliver a unique customer experience to get them standing out from their competition.
Read our full Business Basics Q&A with Paul below.
What many companies forget is that value is determined by the customer, not the brand. It is for the customer to decide and determine what constitutes a valuable experience for them. Right now, there is a significant movement towards speed as opposed to quality in the customer service encounter.
For some customers, there may be huge value in time-saving initiatives that a company introduces; for others, this may have limited value. In terms of building trust, the customer experience has to be exemplary at every single touchpoint, and consistent in terms of brand personality and service quality expectations. When positive customer experience becomes the norm, then trust is developed and loyalty increases.
Creating a unique customer experience is something that many large businesses are now focusing on. How can SMEs compete with big brands on a customer experience level?
For the large multinational who is attempting to create a unique customer experience, they have to consider two things. The first is differentiating their customer experience from their competitors and providing something exciting, unique and different that appeals to their customers. The second is having consistency across their multiple outlets throughout the world.
It is of little use if the customer experience is wonderful at one location but awful at another; customers must feel assured of the level of service quality no matter which location they utilise. For an SME on the other hand, they can focus almost entirely on creating the unique customer experience, and on those elements that will elevate the experience from ordinary to extraordinary.
Digital technologies such as AI and chatbots are becoming integral to the customer experience. In the luxury sector, for example, it’s a balance of both technology and human engagement; great face-to-face interaction coupled with seamless technology such as through data utilisation and online purchasing. They’re two different approaches but they need to work hand in hand. The brand voice and personality needs to come through on both. This is the holy grail for any company, allowing technology and human engagement to work together rather than allowing the former to supersede the latter. Small businesses can also utilise digital marketing to further enhance the overall customer experience.
What we are experiencing at the moment are companies who are struggling to ascertain just the right amount of human engagement and technology, and there are very few who are managing to strike the right balance. Many find it difficult to even align their various means of technology, let alone integrating technology with human interaction. One of the best solutions is online chat with a live human, which offers both requisite speed and a human element that makes it personal and engaging, and a positive, quality customer experience.
Given the inherent constraints of the business environment, one might assume that it is more challenging to develop a unique customer experience in a B2B setting. On the other hand, perhaps it’s more challenging for B2C, if only for the level of competition alone? The reality is, when a company has a strong and defined brand in terms of personality, tone of voice and is differentiated within its marketplace, then it is no more difficult to create that unique customer experience whether B2B or B2C.
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The principles of service quality include reliability, responsiveness, assurance and empathy, and in social media, this is as relevant as in any other channel. Customers want to see that you are responsive to their messages via social media, that you are actively contributing to the conversation within your industry, and that you offer that level of assurance with genuine empathy when things go wrong. They expect that you will be reliable in following through in what you have said on social media; the difference is that your levels of service quality are right there for everyone to assess and analyse.
SMEs are actually in an extremely fortunate position of knowing their customers at a very personal level, and this level of knowledge and understanding is what will help them to create that differentiation through either their product/service offering or their customer experience offering.
Most people, myself included, will opt for the route of less interaction through a chatbot or self-check-in at a hotel for instance. However, there is a definite risk that the introduction of technology can alienate certain customers if they are not given that choice. They may prefer the traditional methods, and as customers, that is their right and choice. For businesses looking to develop their offering with technology in a traditional sector, do so, but ensure you retain that choice for customers to preserve loyalty and maintain retention.
Many thanks to Paul for his tips and insights. If you found his advice helpful, please check out some more of our related Business Basics guides and Q&As below:
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