Just ask: With that said, only your customer knows what the experience feels like to them, so it’s important to ask them how the project is going. Ask directly if they have questions or if they’d like to see different or additional work from you.
As part of my series about the five things a business should do to create a Wow! customer experience, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sara McCord. Sara McCord is the founder and CEO of Sara McCord Communications. She creates communications strategies and supporting content to help clients grow their businesses. She’s worked with companies and brands of all sizes, as well as individual thought leaders. Sara has spearheaded projects ranging from rebranding and multi-faceted marketing strategies; to writing and editing websites, email, social, thought leadership, and ad copy. She has been published on Forbes, Mashable, Business Insider, The Muse, Fast Company, Good Housekeeping, and more.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I got my start in content as a writer/editor at The Muse and contributing writer for Mashable. Both of these companies were trendsetting and evolving in a really inspiring way, and I was fascinated by their growth. Additionally, one of the coolest parts of my job at The Muse was that I got to edit articles for several expert contributors. I frequently got the feedback that “This sounds like me — only better.” So, all of these seeds were being planted at the same time: I had an interest in how companies grow and I knew I could help people with a variety of backgrounds and voices level up their content.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Oh gosh: I once set something on fire in the office microwave at one of my first jobs. I think the lesson is that it’s not enough to be good — even great — at the technical side of your job. There’s always time to stop and be a person (and not to microwave things with any metal whatsoever).
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I’m grateful to my sister-in-law’s sister Jena Burgess. She was a female founder years before me and always took time out to show me the ropes, discussing everything from consulting fees to contracts, and referring clients. I try to honor that experience by offering to meet with women looking to make the move from side-hustling to starting their own business.
Thank you for that. Let’s now pivot to the main focus of our interview. This might be intuitive, but I think it’s helpful to specifically articulate it. In your words, can you share a few reasons why great customer service and great customer experience is essential for success in business?
Lead generation is part of any business: Think of the time and money you invest to gain each and every new client. Now, when someone has an exceptional experience, you have the opportunity for additional business transactions either from repeat business or referrals — without all of that initial build up on your end for a new client relationship.
No matter how talented you are, you will have competition because you’re not the only person who does whatever it is you do. One way to distinguish yourself is through the work itself, but another is strictly based on how you treat your customers.
Think of a Yelp review — seriously! How often do people mention, in addition to the services rendered, whether the service provider was particularly friendly (or not), whether the service was timely (or not), whether the office was warm (or not)? They include this information because their customer service experience will impact their decision as to whether or not they’ll be repeat customers — and whether they’d recommend that place to someone else.
We have all had times either in a store, or online, when we’ve had a very poor experience as a customer or user. If the importance of a good customer experience is so intuitive, and apparent, where is the disconnect? How is it that so many companies do not make this a priority?
I’d like to think it’s always a priority — the issue is in the execution.
Think of it this way: I can say that eating healthy is a priority for me, but I didn’t take the time to buy groceries yesterday or to cook tonight, so we ordered pizza. A similar thing happens when you say quality customer service is a key-value, but you throw your employees into the deep end without sufficient onboarding or training. (After all, customer service is a skill and you wouldn’t just assume they know how to use the database.) Or maybe you’re a solopreneur and you take on too many clients to have enough time to respond to them all in a timely fashion.
Make sure your actions support customer service by planning extra time, thoroughly answering questions, and having a plan in place to prioritize a prompt and thoughtful response to any issues.
Do you think that more competition helps force companies to improve the customer experience they offer? Are there other external pressures that can force a company to improve the customer experience?
I think customer feedback is crucial to improving the customer experience because as stated above, the issue is often a disconnect. On a multi-person team, a manager may be unaware that one of the team members could use additional support and training. If you’re a solopreneur, you may be unaware that your product isn’t as user-friendly as you’d advertised, or that a technical glitch renders it frustrating to use, or that your client would really prefer email check-ins to phone calls.
The best thing a company can do is build formal and informal opportunities for feedback. Even including an occasional “Let me know if you have questions” or “Was that helpful?” or “Please let me know how I can help” as an email sign off starts the dialogue.
Can you share with us a story from your experience about a customer who was “Wowed” by the experience you provided?
The number one way I know my clients are “Wowed” is that they keep working with me. I have two different clients who worked with me personally and then pulled me in to help with communications at additional companies they consulted with. I have a client who started on a 90-day renewable contract and we’re still working together two years later.
Did that Wow! experience have any long term ripple effects? Can you share the story?
Definitely. When clients ask you to work with their contacts it helps you grow your network in new sectors and industries. Working with financial strategies has led to two projects with wealth management firms; working with a human resources expert has led to projects with professional associations, accounting firms, and an NBA basketball player. Working with a dental office led to a rebranding project for a dental lab.
Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a founder or CEO should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience. Please share a story or an example for each.
1. Give yourself a performance review: I do an unofficial, self-assessment of my relationship with each current client on a weekly basis. It’s as simple as saying to myself: “How happy do I think [name] is with my services right now?” If I’m making good progress on action items, just created a top-notch deliverable, or we recently had an inspired call, I mark them down as happy. If I know they’re waiting on something, or I feel like their emails have been particularly abrupt, I make a mental note that they could be happier, and may adjust my schedule accordingly to reach out or push something forward for the clients in that category.
2. Just ask: With that said, only your customer knows what the experience feels like to them, so it’s important to ask them how the project is going. Ask directly if they have questions or if they’d like to see different or additional work from you.
3. Make time to build the relationship: I build in standing weekly calls with my remote clients. The call can be 30 minutes (or less) and canceled as needed, but talking through what you’re working on nips any miscommunications in the bud, and makes clients feel like they’re a priority. Plus, this way they know where your time is going, and these calls serve to build rapport.
4. Build a dream team: I work with talented professionals in adjacent fields (graphic design, website design, videography, etc.), so I can be a one-stop-shop for trusted referrals or to build a top team for a project. In turn, my clients will have less legwork for any projects related to my specialty and they know they’ll get a quality result.
5. Own up to your missteps and mistakes: Yes, there may be times when you do great work — and what’s needed is additional clear communication. I’m not talking about that. If you mess up, say that you did and fix it.
Are there a few things that can be done so that when a customer or client has a Wow! experience, they inspire others to reach out to you as well?
Absolutely. I once read that the best time to ask for a testimonial is right when you’ve wrapped a project and your customer is feeling enthusiastic (not however many months later when you’re updating your marketing materials).
When a customer says how happy they are, thank them, and then share how helpful it would be if they share their experience. The trick is to finish that sentence with how/where you’d like them to, so it’s not a guessing game. Say, “I’d be thrilled if you shared your experience [by filling out this short survey/ by leaving a review on our company Facebook page/ by posting about your experience on social and tagging us/ by referring any friends or colleagues who need similar work.”
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
My husband and I started the Moses Warren McCord Memorial Fund at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, DC. It’s a fund to support the most vulnerable NICU babies and their families, as our son passed away at 19 days old. I can think of nothing more impactful than helping families bring their babies home and showing up to support those who cannot.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!