What do you see when you look at your business? The upcoming staff meeting? The pile of papers on your desk? The production schedule? As the owner of a small business, odds are you see your business much differently than your customers do. After all, looking out is simply much different from looking in.
We all know this first hand. As a customer, how easy is it to find room for improvement in other business' websites, customer service processes or products? Bet there isn’t one person reading this post who hasn’t thought, 'How could they not see this?'
The last thing you want is for a customer to be asking those very questions about your business. To avoid this, take the time to periodically 'walk though' your business through the eyes of your customer. Here's how:
Visit Your Website as a Customer
Your website is often the first contact a customer has with your business. You may spend all sorts of time writing copy, uploading photos and receiving orders through your website, but how often do you use it to find a product, get an answer to a question and place an order yourself? If you’re answer is not very often, now’s the time.
According Maneet Puri at DesignMoto, 'Functionality is the chief factor that decides the fate of the website. If a customer is facing any difficulties in browsing the website or locating the information he/she is seeking, then there is a possibility of losing one and many customers...Thus, a website must be enriched with intuitive navigation and must provide customers with easy accessibility.'
Witness a First Reaction to Your Business
Ask someone to interact with your product or service and shadow them carefully when they do so. As Jason Cohen writes in Small Business Trends, 'Do informal usability testing with a stranger. You’re too close to your own projects!' At Grasshopper, we often do this to give our customers a say in the projects we’re working on and to make sure that what we’re designing works with how our customers use Grasshopper.
Because you spend so much time thinking about your offerings, it's important to learn the perspectives of first-time users. You may be amazed at what you see, from how the person approaches your product to what may confuse or interest him about it.
Try and Find Yourself Online
Search Engine Optimization is a big business for a big reason. Potential customer’s first inclination isn't to type your website address into their browsers. More likely, they will Google your business name or search for your type of service. Business owner Danny Dover describes what he learned by doing an SEO test of his business Giggly Wiggly Preschool near Seattle on SEOMoz's blog. As it turns out, it includes more than just searching for your name.
'What words might people type into the search engines to look for your client's company?' he writes. 'For my example, I came up with 'Issaquah Preschool,' 'Issaquah Daycare,' 'Sammamish Preschool,” (a neighboring suburb) 'Preschool Summer Camp,' and 'Creative Preschool.' Your list should be longer.'
If your business name doesn't come up on the first page of search results, an SEO expert can help you ramp up your website.
Track Every Marketing Effort
It's very difficult for a small business owner to know how receptive customers are to marketing initiatives. It is possible, however to track the results of each. As the National Federation of Small Businesses writes in '5 Simple Ways to Track Marketing ROI,' 'Tracking your return on investment on marketing helps you determine which efforts best promote your business. If you’re not tracking ROI, you could be throwing money away on promotions that don’t work.'
To avoid this, the NFSB blog recommends: asking all of your customers how they heard about you, track and managing contacts, coding marketing materials and emails, handing out coupons, as well as tracking phone calls.
Sometimes looking at your own business from the customer's perspective means actually looking at it differently yourself, and sometimes is just about finding the right people and tools to act as those fresh eyes.
When was the last time you took a good hard look at your business from your customers' perspective? What did you learn?