You’re probably familiar with the standard advice for growing your online business: create quality content, generate an email list, use social media, optimize your website, and deliver on your promises. This advice is solid, but there’s more to growing a business than how you deliver your product. If you’ve been following the standard advice for a while and don’t see much improvement, these five strategies will help:
#1 Focus on improving your customer service
Your customer service interactions shape customer perception, whether it’s through email, live chat, bot chats, or phone calls. You can always grow your business by improving your customer service.
Statistics show U.S. companies lose $62 billion a year due to poor customer service. A whopping 33% of Americans reported they’d consider switching to a competitor after one instance of poor customer service. What constitutes poor customer service for many people has evolved to include not responding to emails within several hours. Consumers expect an immediate or near-immediate response from a customer service inquiry. This means the first step to improving your customer service is to provide it around the clock.
The next step is to ensure the quality of service provided is top-notch. You want to resolve issues to the customer’s satisfaction and go above and beyond their expectations. For example, when a customer contacts your company for a no-questions-asked refund three days after their return period ended, give it to them anyway. They’ll say wonderful things about you to their friends, and probably write you a good review online.
#2 Improve your products and services; change what doesn’t work
Running a successful online business depends on your ability to continually make sales for as long as you want to remain in business. Your potential for growth directly depends on how well you can evolve your products or services to meet the changing needs of your customers. For example, Best Buy has been selling computer electronics since 1983, and their inventory changes based on the current trending technology. For example, in 1983, Best Buy sold VCRs. In the 1990s, they started selling surround sound systems, and in 2008, they began promoting Blu-ray discs and players. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a VCR in any current electronics store that isn’t coupled with a DVD player, and even that’s rare.
Like Best Buy, your products and services should naturally evolve based on current trends and the feedback you get from customers. Unless you’re selling household cleaning tools, your products probably aren’t timeless.
Eliminate choices, don’t add more
Many retailers mistakenly believe that offering 20 styles of the same item will help consumers find something they really like. The truth is, more choices lead to fewer purchases, as was discovered in the famous “jam experiment.”
In 2000, psychologists Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper offered samples of 24 flavors of jam outside a supermarket. The next day, they sampled only 6 flavors. When just 6 flavors were offered, 30% of tasters made a purchase. The first day’s sampling of 24 flavors attracted more tasters, but only 3% made a purchase.
When working out ways to improve your products, eliminate excessive choices and options, don’t add more. With a smaller selection, you can focus on improving the existing selections or trade them out for better options.
For example, say you’re running an ice cream shop and have 40 flavors, but people rarely order the unconventional flavors. Eliminate what doesn’t sell and stick to what does. The few people who ordered pistachio fudge will probably be just as happy with another fudge flavor.
In-N-Out – Southern California’s most famous drive-through hamburger business – built an empire around simple selections. You can have a hamburger, a cheeseburger, or a double cheeseburger. Their only side is fresh-cut French fries, and their milkshakes come in chocolate, vanilla, or strawberry. They’ve never given in to the craze of constantly creating new milkshake flavors as Starbucks does with their blended drinks, and they’ve been financially stable since 1948. In-N-Out’s creator, Harry Snyder, had a motto: “keep it simple; do one thing, and do it the best you can.”
#3 Stop listening to general gurus and heed advice from industry experts
General gurus are the people who say their strategies and systems will help every business owner regardless of industry. Chances are, they’ve repackaged basic business advice. It’s not that you won’t get value from their services, but they probably aren’t offering anything you don’t already know or have free access to.
The other reason general gurus aren’t the best source of advice is that there isn’t one formula that will work for everyone. The top gurus contradict each other when giving advice to business owners. Not because they’re sharing bad advice, but because they all have different ways of operating in the world.
An industry expert, on the other hand, can provide deep insight into your market and help you figure out what makes them tick. They might have ideas for how you can implement their wisdom, but once you know what to do, you’re free to get it done however you see fit.
#4 Hire an outside expert to take over your business (temporarily)
If you’re struggling in any area, hiring an outsider to take over temporarily might be your best road to recovering lost profits. It’s common to hire a consultant, but it’s most effective to allow that consultant to run the show for a short period of time.
If you resist the idea of handing over your business to an outsider, put yourself in the consultant’s position. Imagine being an expert in digital marketing psychology, and a company hires you as a consultant. You’ll be more effective if that company would give you carte blanche to make improvements than you would be if you were only allowed to make suggestions. The company could see soaring subscriber and open rates by the next day if they’d let you make immediate changes. Limited to making suggestions, you won’t see drastic results.
#5 Set clearly defined and measurable goals
You may have heard of S.M.A.R.T. goals. It’s an acronym for creating specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound goals. An example of a SMART goal would be to generate 100 new email subscribers by 8:00 P.M. next Friday. That’s a simple goal, but that’s also the point.
The problem many business owners face is having lofty goals that are not specific or time-bound, which makes them harder or impossible to meet. For example, if your goal is to become a millionaire by the time you’re 35, it’s not impossible, but you’re unlikely to achieve it the way it’s phrased. To turn that into a SMART goal, you need to start by defining exactly how much money will make you a millionaire at 35. You need to know what you’re aiming for in order to create a plan of action.
Then, you’ll need to work out how much money you need to generate each year and each month to reach your goal at 35, accounting for expenses and taxes. Chances are, with enough thought, a lofty goal will start to feel unrealistic, and that’s a good thing. It means you can narrow down your goal to something realistic and achievable, rather than living inside of a pipe dream that never comes to fruition.
You have to know what you’re trying to accomplish to create a plan of action. Without a time-bound deadline, a goal will seem open-ended and lose priority.
Experiment with different strategies
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to building and growing a successful business. Heed advice from others with a grain of salt when they’re not in your industry and learn to extract the essence of their strategy rather than attempt to recreate it. The strategies that stand the test of time are the ones that focus on improving your customer relationships, and customer service is where it all begins.