Customer Service Software

How Small Businesses Can Differentiate Themselves Through CX

By | 9 min read | Published

Hear from three business leaders on how they've implemented successful customer experiences

There may be no greater love story in the American consciousness than that of small-business ownership. In fact, we romanticize the heck out of it. It’s the ideal “pick yourself up by your bootstraps” fable that idealizes all we hold dear as a culture—hard work, independence, ingenuity, and—ideally—profit.

What isn’t often shared in this story is the gritty underbelly, which is often sanitized in the age of social media. The sleepless nights, impossible choices, inability to control a volatile market, and agonizing pressure to turn a profit.

The hidden parts of this story underscore the fact that small-business ownership is hard. Very, very hard. As in: half-of-them-aren’t-around-after-five-years hard.

In a world that’s stacked up against small businesses, it’s critical to differentiate what your business has to offer so it stands out in a crowded marketplace.

But how? That’s where customer experience (CX) comes in.

What is customer experience?

Customer experience (CX) refers to customers’ thoughts, feelings, and perceptions when interacting with an SMB, its channels, or products. Examples of CX include how customers develop relationships with organizations or customers signing up for free trials. Through these interactions, customers develop impressions of organizations. A customer’s experiences can influence their behavior and purchasing habits:

Positive experiences can boost brand loyalty, improve sales, and increase product awareness among target groups.

Negative experiences can result in bad word-of-mouth, negative PR, and lost revenue.

Better customer experiences lead to better sales

If you’re thinking to yourself, “Yeah, yeah, experiences are great, but what does that really have to do with the bottom line?” take a look at these statistics[1]. They make the case that how a customer feels about your business quite literally translates to money spent (or not spent) on what you’re offering:

  • 43% of all B2B buyers desire a seller-free sales experience—a preference that climbs to 54% for millennials.[*]
  • By 2025, 80% of B2B sales interactions between suppliers and buyers will occur via digital channels.[**]

There are plenty of methods out there to discover how to improve your customer experience, but the best known are simple enough to use right away:

  • Interviewing customers about their unmet needs
  • Developing personas for your customer segments that map out how they think and feel in relation to the problem your business is trying to solve
  • Mapping the current customer journey and how they experience that problem

Recently, I spoke to three small-business owners and leaders whose products and services are nestled in saturated markets, where the competition consists of large, established businesses that have the resources to dominate the field.

These owners and leaders are Payal Thomas, founder and co-owner of Every Girl Dolls,[2] Scott Weiss, co-founder and co-owner of global design consultancy Catalest[3], and Raza Latif, CEO of IT company NuAxis Innovations[4] (which recently graduated from a small to large business).

In our conversations, they shared the top four ways CX has helped them stand out and survive.

Note: Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

CX helps SMBs set themselves apart from large businesses

Raza Latif: [Comparing going from a small business to large to competing in a sport] If you go from one league where you’re competing with people with a certain skill to another league, it’s pretty much going from your neighborhood league to your state league; the teams are now extremely skilled, extremely well-resourced, and extremely capable.

You have to really earn your place in that league, you have to be exceptional. You only survive if you have something unique or something valuable to offer, and that’s what we’ve done by adding CX to all of our service offerings.

Payal Thomas: I think the toughest part of going up against large businesses is creating brand awareness. We aren’t creating something brand new. We created an 18-inch doll, but we made it specifically to look like a South Asian girl. But 18-inch dolls are readily available, you can find them in any store—they’re very cheap. And so I think, as a small business, it’s just getting our name out there and differentiating ourselves from those other brands and showing people how we really are different, and offering something different than what they can find at that store.

We are specifically showing that we are creating dolls for kids that find themselves in the minority. So, for South Asian girls, we’re specifically saying that this is a brown girl. She comes in a South Asian outfit, and she can help your kids not only see themselves in the product, but she can help them connect to their culture just by creating some cultural curiosity.

So, that’s how we’re trying to differentiate ourselves, because when you walk into Target, you can find a doll that looks brown, right? But they’re not necessarily creating cultural curiosity. And we realized through our CX customer interviews that creating cultural curiosity by offering some other products that align more to South Asian culture could help us build a better connection with our customers.

CX helps you find out who your customers are and meaningfully connect with them

Scott Weiss: [By using CX principles,] you can create trust through storytelling and sharing narratives and examples of the complex journey. This humanizes the work as much as possible. I am constantly reminded of how important that is. We have a lot of partners who are at such a high altitude and sometimes there are so many layers and disconnection points between what they do on a day-to-day basis and how the end user experiences what they offer.

Bringing humanity to the work by using personas…it’s such an important component of the work that we do.

Raza Latif: Just like in our own lives, we only part with money for things that are of value to us. [Online] businesses are extremely successful because they provide something that feels like it’s designed for me, or they have been successful in convincing me that this is something that I cannot live without.

You cannot be making worthwhile solutions if you have not invested the time to understand the journey, personas, steps, emotions, and data around the experience of the customer. That investment is critical.

Payal Thomas: I mean South Asian isn’t one type of person, right? It’s many different cultures, and so trying to offer one product is really hard. Using CX at the beginning was helpful because we interviewed so many different people, not just one type of person. It was helpful to understand that [experience]. One product will not be the answer, but it’s a start.

CX helps you explore new possibilities in your business’ offerings

Payal Thomas: I feel like the biggest takeaway for me in using CX was understanding that there’s so much more that I can do. It’s not just the physical product, there’s more that you can offer to your customer outside of that one thing.

Through the CX interviews, I learned that our customers want to find a community. So I began looking at different ways that I could offer a community on our website, possibly a forum where people (parents especially) could come and ask questions about how they could handle different situations, or maybe even kids could come out and meet other kids that were like them.

Scott Weiss: I think [using CX methods] to get a deep understanding of the unmet needs or opportunities facing our customers and trying to drill down into what they are trying to achieve is so important. Listening, shaping, iterating, and using those conversations to mold a valuable partnership is critical.

CX helps you deliver more value to your customers

Scott Weiss: I think CX is rooted in helping our partners better organize themselves around problem solving. It helps them align themselves around solving certain problems, so every facilitation and every meeting is designed to drive progress and impact.

Raza Latif: I think what happens in a small business is that you go after a lot of problems and you try to solve those problems with a very limited view of the world. You know, I think CX and human-centered design can really help a small business focus their energies on the right problem. I think, with CX, you can be more deliberate about your solutions and can really have more impact on all the work that you’re doing.

If you are ready to level up your business’ customer experience and capture every customer interaction, these resources can help:


Survey methodology

* Gartner’s 2020 Digital Buying Survey was conducted from November to December 2020 and included 982 B2B buyers located in the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, and Singapore. Respondents were involved in making a purchase decision on behalf of their company that involved multiple potential vendors.

** Gartner’s 2020 B2B Digital Commerce Survey: This primary research was conducted online from 27 October through 15 December 2020 among a total of 379 respondents in North America (n = 173), Western Europe (n = 135) and APAC (n = 71). Respondents were either selling or purchasing organizations, with selling organizations representing North America (n = 85), Western Europe (n = 63) and APAC (n = 33), and purchasing organizations representing North America (n = 88), Western Europe (n = 72) and APAC (n = 38).

Qualifying organizations span various industries. Organizations were screened for having at least 250 employees, being business-focused or a blend of business- and IT-focused. Respondents were required to be director level or above and work in a department relevant to selling or purchasing. Selling respondents had to sell to businesses and currently use, or plan to use in the next three years, websites for B2B sales. Procuring respondents had to purchase products and/or services from other businesses and currently use, or plan to use in the next three years, websites for B2B purchases. Quotas were applied for countries/regions and selling/procuring modules.

Note: Results do not represent global findings or the market as a whole, but reflect the sentiments of the respondents and companies surveyed.


Sources

  1. Architect a Better B2B Sales Experience With Gartner’s Customer Experience CORE Model, Gartner
  2. Homepage, Every Girl Dolls
  3. About, Catalyst
  4. Homepage, NuAxis Innovations

Looking for Customer Service software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Customer Service software solutions.

About the Author

Amanda Chavez - Guest Contributor

Amanda Chavez - Guest Contributor

As a customer experience executive, Amanda Chavez scales human-centered design and customer experience best practices to help organizations innovate. She fostered company-wide HCD/CX/EX practices at Booz Allen, Cognosante, and NuAxis. Her previous work includes projects with Fortune Future 50 companies, governmental departments such as the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense, as well as the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and the National Science Foundation.

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