by Tina Bacon-DeFrece | June 09, 2016

It is six to seven times more expensive for a business to acquire a new customer than it is to keep a current one, making customer loyalty -- and customer experience -- a priority for any thriving business.

Before shaking up and re-steering your business model to that of a customer-experience focus, business owners must first understand who their customers are. If your business is truly going to understand your customer's needs and wants, you need to connect and empathize with situations they face. Once this step is tackled, you can then move on to step two; building the foundation of a customer experience-oriented business model.

Here are four tips to hit the ground running:

1. Create a Customer "Experience" Vision

Seventy percent of buying experiences are based on how the customer feels they are being treated. The companies that deliver outstanding customer experience focus on the value propositions of their customer by tailoring and designing their service approach. 

For example, my company, Big Frog Custom T-Shirts & More emphasizes making every environment, from the corporate office to each individual retail location, a fun and exciting place to work -- we say the retail locations' theme is a mix between George of the Jungle and The Jetsons. Our franchisees strive to go far beyond "satisfying their customers," to making them fans and brand advocates. Customers are greeted, work one-on-one with an artist at a design station, and together they make a custom product. 

Big Frog's main objective is creating a value-added experience for customers, and that starts by creating a value-added experience for the franchise owners, who then create a value-added experience for their employees. This is an important lesson for small business owners to ensure their vision pervades the entire organization. 

2. Cultivate Knowledgeable Staff

This begins with hiring the right people, regardless of their role, to ensure they believe in your brand and what it stands for. On average, loyal customers are worth up to 10 times as much as their first purchase, and customers who can rely on employees' expertise will return. Employees must be informed enough to respond to most inquiries, or know where to turn if they don't have the answer.

3. Train Staff to Advise, Not Just Sell

Instead of focusing on selling your product or service, offer expert advice and insight on what is best for your customer's needs. This type of guidance shows signs of trust with your customer and helps further establish the relationship for which you are striving.  While it may not lead to a sale initially, customers remember when they receive support and will come back for repeat purchases in the future. 

4. Create Communities

A business only has a 5-20 percent chance of selling to a new prospect, but a 60-70 percent chance of selling to an existing customer. This is where community-focus becomes critical. Be personal and available, but most importantly integrate your business into the community by partnering with local schools, charities, sports teams, etc. The more you integrate your business into the community, the more likely the community will turn to you and support your business. Big Frog has seen incredible success with this approach as 45 percent of its business is from repeat customers and 25 percent of its business is from customer referrals. 

A customer experience strategy will help achieve higher customer satisfaction and increase revenue. A well designed strategy starts with defining what customer experiences you want to deliver and then making sure those experiences are consistent across all aspects of the brand. 

Tina Bacon-DeFrece is president and COO of Big Frog Custom T-Shirts & More. Launched in 2008, Big Frog Custom T-Shirts & More is a franchise concept specializing in custom decorated apparel. Big Frog has more than 65 locations nationwide and plans to reach 80 stores open and operating by early 2017 and they look to become the world leader in the $50 billion garment decorating industry. Each individually owned shop uses unique technology that brings imagination to life with endless design opportunities on T-shirts, sports shirts, tank tops, sweatshirts, hoodies, bandanas, onesies, dog clothes, jackets, mouse pads, sports gear, tote bags and more.