In the aftermath of the Industrial Revolution, functionality was paramount for businesses to win their clients' dollars. Henry Ford aptly expressed that customers could choose any color of the Model T they desired, as long as that color was black. Fast forward to the mid-20th century: functionality alone became the ante to play in the wake of a design revolution. At that point, form entered the conversation and a product not only had to work well, but had to look nice, too. This has remained a constant expectation for clients ever since--form may follow function, but it's certainly there as well.

However, in recent years, this combination has now become a baseline for many buyers, with hopes for something better. This hope (and often the disparity) is where your business can fight its most successful battle to win new business. By delivering a superior customer experience, you'll set yourself apart. With most of the competitive advantages of the past already commoditized, customer experience is an area that remains largely uncharted and ready for innovation. Only 26 percent of companies have a well-developed strategy in place for improving customer experience, presenting an obvious opportunity to leave 74 percent of your competitors in the dust.

A good starting point is to experience your offering from your customer's perspective--not just the product or service itself, but every touch point surrounding it. To craft an ideal and competitively stronger experience, you need to examine the details of your whole company's interaction with each customer's five senses, which is why I highly recommend a five-senses experience audit. Take a look at each possible touch point and deeply examine the sensory experience you deliver.

For example, if you own a karate studio, you might think about the following: the initial customer inquiry phone call, the sign-up meeting, the first lesson, the after-workout experience, the website, your equipment, etc. Your business has a similarly lengthy list. Once you establish a list of touch points for yours, do a compare-and-contrast of what you have vs. your ideal; a quick brainstorm session can yield ideas that cost very little but make a big impact with your customers and help you easily best your competition.

Let's dive into a painful example we've all dealt with as consumers: buying a mattress. It's simply a bad experience--the warehouse setting always feels dingy, you never really know how it's going to feel at night after testing it for two minutes, the shipping takes forever because it's loaded onto massive semis, and inevitably, the "customer service representative" who answers the phone when you call with a question or concern doesn't provide a tremendous amount of service. In my case, I always seem to get a snarky, unhelpful drone reading from a script. Yes, I realize I have to buy a mattress for my bed, but all of my options are terrible.

Enter Casper, a New York City-based mattress startup that launched this past April to much fanfare. This innovative company (for a really boring product) reinvented the mattress-buying experience, after tweaking the product itself. While their mattress is nice, it's certainly not entirely different than that of many others on the market. But after adjusting some materials, they really overhauled the customer experience. Casper provides free shipping, and the mattress arrives in a box small enough to fit in the back of a taxi, which is great considering it's same-day delivery in New York City (and only five days nationally). Even better? You can try the mattress for 40 nights--if you don't like it at any point within that window, you can return it for a 100 percent refund.

Mattresses are a dime a dozen, so the team at Casper made a change in the way their customers experience the product, rather than fundamentally changing the product itself. The result? Casper generated more than $1 million in 28 days following its launch.

Perhaps even more remarkable is that business has stayed strong. May was bigger than April and June was bigger than May. While it's still very early, the company's initial success is due in large part to how vocal its customers and fans have been via social media. Today, a double-digit percentage of the startup's sales come from customers talking about it on social channels and sharing their personal buying story with their friends.

The consumer response validates the pain point that these founders set out to solve. With the incredible demand on day one, the entire team, including the CEO and CTO, was on hand to field every call, chat, and email that came in around the clock. It's a little different than calling the furniture warehouse and having some cranky logistics person "look into it" for you.

If a company like Casper is winning its market in a really unsexy, plain-Jane industry (which is seemingly impervious to innovation), you can, too. Start with your five senses, and aim to delight your customers on all fronts. Unleash your creativity by crafting a significant overhaul to even just one area of customer engagement, and the results will speak for themselves.

Published on: Sep 30, 2014