I remember one morning driving to work and stopping at a corner cafe to grab a quick coffee. The closed sign was still up. I looked at the time and glanced down at their business hours on the door. They were supposed to be open at 8:00 a.m.—it was 8:10. I'd been there a few times before at the same time of day, so this was...strange.
My immediate thought was: "Do I wait?" And, ultimately, the answer was no. Since I didn't know when they'd arrive, I decided to cut my losses and go to another cafe.
That morning, my regular coffee shop deviated from what I was used to. I didn't complain—but I didn't stick around.
Any failure in consistency forces customers to face this dilemma: do they stay and suffer an inconvenience to do business with you, or do they find a better alternative?
As a business owner, I know that everyone drops the ball once in a while. Things happen—and perhaps I could have empathized. But as a customer, that one time was all it took for me to move on. I also had a shop to open at 9:00 a.m., and I couldn't afford to have my customers finding my doors closed, thinking it was strange, and moving on.
Why consistency matters
If a customer got past the inherent resistance to trying out new things (your service) and had a pleasant experience, they'll come back and choose you over competitors.
To get a customer, the first experience has to be great. But to keep a customer, subsequent experiences have to be just as good, if not better. Not only in person—everywhere. A Salesforce survey shows that 75% of consumers "expect consistent experiences across multiple channels," and 75% are "likely to switch brands if they don't get it."
Bottom line: once a customer decides to buy from you, they expect the same level of service every single time they interact with your business.
If a customer got past the inherent resistance to trying out new things (your service) and had a pleasant experience, they'll come back and choose you over competitors. You've removed the burden of uncertainty, the burden of wondering if you'll meet their expectations.
When you say what you do and do what you say, you'll be seen as reliable and dependable: your customers will trust you to deliver on your promise every time. That's what creates loyalty.
Loyalty is how my nail bar business grew. My customers usually found us on Facebook and Instagram, and they would DM us to request prices and availability. After getting their service, they would post on social media and tag us in their photos. This led to other people following and sending us DMs. I made it a point to respond to all DMs, comments, and mentions within an hour. Facebook showed our response rate on our page, and we took it as a badge of honor and put it on our website.
This consistency is what kept people coming back.
The price of inconsistency
Unexpected or unplanned growth can expose weak processes or structures. And that can mean a failure to perform consistently according to these expectations. Here are some things that can happen because of inconsistency.
Higher churn rates
Once customers get accustomed to a certain experience, they'll be less likely to accept a significant change in that experience—unless it's for the better.
In our case, it wasn't for the better.
As demand grew, we focused more on serving clients and the constantly ringing phone and less on our social media platforms. The customers who were used to booking through the DMs would sometimes only receive a response after two days, instead of the hour they'd come to expect.
They could no longer depend on us to respond to their requests in a timely manner or give them available bookings on their required dates. The dilemma was clear: do they wait days for a response, or do they find an alternative? I didn't wait around for the coffee shop to open. Why would my customers wait days for a response from me?
I started noticing that when we did eventually respond, most of the inquiries had already found alternatives. We were seeing a decline in bookings from existing customers and had to focus on increasing bookings from new customers or getting new business, which was a costly exercise. The new customers saw the two-day response period as the norm, but the old customers found it...strange.
Like the coffee shop owner, I'd given my customers a new experience that deviated from what they were used to. They weren't here for it.
In this digital era, unhappy customers aren't only sharing their bad experiences with people they know. They're sharing with the whole world. The last thing you want is to wake up to a bunch of bad reviews on Facebook from the very same people who used to sing your praises. Disaster.
The image above was a comment—along with a "doesn't recommend" review—left on our page by an unhappy customer. It sat right at the top of our reviews for a while, along with the deteriorating Facebook response rate. It hurt our reputation for sure.
I had to learn the hard way that inconsistency can be costly. But there's a way for you to keep your customer experience consistent and avoid these missteps.
Creating consistency in your customer experience
The mistake I made was thinking that, as long as the customers arrived and we gave them great service in person, then that's all that mattered. But that's not the case. You have to be consistent with all touchpoints—not just the ones during the sale.
I ended up hiring a customer representative to handle all queries that came in during the day. We also set up a process that would automatically book customers for their next appointment and send them reminders a day before the appointment. They could then text if they were still coming or not, and we would update the bookings or cancel if necessary. We also had a satisfaction survey we asked people to fill out after receiving treatment. It wasn't perfect, but we were on the right track.
There were four things that tied everything together and helped me ensure that I was providing a consistent customer experience.
Workflows help you standardize how each process in the business is done. This is your roadmap on how to create a culture of excellent service. Not only do workflows create uniformity, but they also remove ambiguity in dealing with various scenarios.
One way to be sure your workflows are consistent is to write standard operating procedures.
Systems to automate our workflows
Having systems in place to carry out certain aspects of your workflows reduces the chance of any variation in the processes. These systems also save you time and allow you to scale your efforts. Especially when you have recurring tasks, automating them can help create a consistent experience for customers.
Here's an example using Zapier. After a potential customer completes a form, Zapier can automatically create a new contact in your CRM. Once the contact hits your CRM, it'll automatically notify your team of that lead and assign the lead as a task to a team member. It can even simultaneously send the customer a personalized email confirming their submission while your sales team attends to it.
You could trigger a similar workflow for completed sales. Whenever someone buys something, automatically send them a thank-you note, a video manual of how to enjoy their purchase, or welcome packets explaining what to expect from working with you.
No matter what workflow you have, automating it means you don't have to do the tedious work—and you can be sure the process is the same every single time.
Here are some example workflows, called Zaps, that you can start with. But you can make it happen with almost any app you use.
Be sure that your customer support workflows are equally as streamlined. Sending support email autoresponders lets customers know that their requests have been received and how long they can expect to wait for a response. It lets them know they're a priority and helps you with managing expectations. Or you might send all Twitter mentions and Facebook messages into your team inbox to prevent queries from slipping through the cracks if they're coming through multiple channels.
If you use Zendesk for customer support, here are 5 ways to streamline your Zendesk tickets with automation. Or read about how one small business automates their customer support workflows with Freshdesk.
Of course, not everything can be automated, neither should it be. The human touch is just as important, which is why it's imperative that everyone gets on the same page about service. Train your staff to make sure everyone knows what processes to follow in various situations. The main forms of training you should be thinking about are:
Customer service training, so that staff know how to interact with customers.
Product training, so they know everything your business does in order to respond effectively to queries.
Systems training, to empower staff to use the tools they need, so that processes run smoothly.
Don't wait for bad reviews to start flooding in to know you're missing the mark. Be proactive about getting customer insights.
Sending an automated survey to customers after using your service is a great way to get this feedback. Automating makes sure the survey goes out to the right people at the right time to capture relevant insights. You can use a survey app or even try an NPS survey.
Here are more tips for how automation can help your small team get more done.
Consistency shows your commitment to your customers. It helps you build routines and habits in your business that ensure that the customer comes first at all times. And when done right, consistency not only delights your customers—it also catapults your growth.
Sometimes your customer support needs to change for a reason. Here are 5 tips for effective customer support during a crisis.