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At one point in history, people believed that Earth was at the center of the universe—that the sun, moon and other planets all revolved around US. Knowing what we do now, that viewpoint seems both crazy and egocentric, but that theory was formed by people with limited information and resources who were doing their best to speculate about the unknown. It’s a golden example of just how skewed our perspectives can be before we have the necessary set of tools and knowledge.

Advancements in science eventually proved that the planets revolve around the sun, of course. At this point, you may be thinking, “Hey, nice science lesson, but what does that have to do with business?” The answer is everything!

Too many small business owners start out with the misconception that their companies will be hubs in their customers’ lives—in essence, that THE BUSINESSES are the sun and THEIR CUSTOMERS are the planets. They think, “Customers will be drawn to my business simply because I am awesome.”

The reality is that it’s a competitive world out there, and plenty of other businesses offer the same products and services as you. Bottom line? You need your customers much more than they need you. CUSTOMERS are the sun sustaining your business and keeping it in orbit. If you don’t have a customer-centric attitude that nurtures relationships and keeps customers coming back for more, your business will suffer.

To show your customers that your business has a customer-centric focus, you have to get two things right: customer culture AND customer service. These may seem like one and the same, but they aren’t. You need them both to build Your Iconic Brand and attract customers for life.

Customer Service vs. Customer Culture

Customer service is the assistance or advice you give your customers that enhances the experiences people have when they engage with your business. Customer service includes elements like your return policy, gift wrapping, a help desk, and even layaway plans. The different levels of service you provide shape how customers perceive your business, making customer service a critical component in your business’s ability to satisfy customers.

If you want to offer your customers an exceptional experience that elicits loyalty, you need to go beyond strong customer service and master the realm of customer culture.

Customer culture is a holistic attitude towards customers and customer relationships that’s engrained in every action your business takes. A strong customer culture makes customers feel appreciated and elevated by their interactions with your business. When customer culture is done right, your customers will feel better about themselves for having done business with you. When you nail customer culture, you meet customers’ needs, exceed their expectations and make them feel special. In return, they’ll come back more often, spend more each time and refer like crazy.

Here’s an example:

Jane walks up to the help desk in your hardware store and says she needs a specific wrench to fix her leaky toilet. Good customer service means you point her toward the wrench she requested and send her on her way with a friendly smile. You’d be providing decent customer service, but you wouldn’t be doing anything to build a relationship. Jane may find your prices satisfactory and your location convenient, but will she come back to your store again after moving across town? Probably not.

Now let’s rewind, and respond to Jane through the lens of a strong customer culture. When she tells you what kind of wrench she needs, you strike up a conversation. Ask her where her toilet is leaking as you personally lead her to your selection of wrenches, stopping along the way to point out a new pump that would make it so she’d never have to worry about her toilet leaking again. If it’s going to save her money on her water bills, mention that, too. Tell her you have access to a diagram that makes it so anyone can replace the pump without hiring a plumber, and offer her a copy. Give her your name and phone number, and tell her to call if she runs into any problems during the installation—you’d be happy to run over any other parts or tools she needs to finish the job. Ask her if you can reach out later to see how the project went. These are all examples of customer culture-driven ways you can give Jane exceptional customer service that will lay the foundation for a long-term relationship.

Scenario #1 vs. scenario #2 might mean a difference of a couple minutes, but Jane’s lifetime value as a customer just blew through the roof. She’ll be a dedicated customer, and you can bet she’ll recommend your store to anyone with a home DIY project.

Defining Your Customer Culture & Delivering Exceptional Customer Service

If you’re ready to establish a customer culture that drives your customer service efforts and turns mere patrons into customers for life, fantastic! Fine-tuning your customer culture is the best way to grow your small business and start building Your Iconic Brand.