Almost every business person I've ever met can recite the customer experience mantra from memory: "Carefully listening to and responding to your customers' complaints builds loyalty and yields valuable information about how service can be improved."

Yet despite knowing the right words, most companies forget to focus on these "hidden gems" of feedback, and when they do, they do a poor job of using this information to make the customer experience as positive as possible. So when I sat down next to Dutta Satadip, Director of Customer Success in Americas for Google at a recent conference lunch, I knew I had met a customer care soulmate.  

As I sat talking to Dutta, I realized that his approach and words of wisdom had many small business applications. I asked him to weigh in on how to create happy customers -- the Google way. Here's what he had to say.

1. Start by understanding engagement.

"As you acquire customers, it is important to understand exactly why -- and why not -- someone is choosing your product or service, and how they feel about the transaction" says Satadip.

One of the simplest ways small businesses can do this is to send a short online survey, after someone has signed on or after they have posed questions via Internet or phone. By using a tool such as Survey Monkey, you can create a link at the end of an email that allows the customer to click through and answer two to four questions.

The purpose of the survey is to measure the customer's Transactional Satisfaction and look for ways to improve the initial connection between the client and company. Satadip cautions that while measuring Transactional Customer Satisfaction can provide great insights into what to do to improve service levels, it's not the best predictor of long-term customer engagement.

For that, Satadip suggests that small businesses use Relationship Customer Satisfaction Surveys, which contain questions that provide customers with the opportunity to give feedback on not just one or two interactions, but on how they feel about their relationship with the company -- as a whole.

2. Use the data wisely.

Gathering your customer data is one thing; making it meaningful requires understating what the underlying drivers are of the levels of engagement you have uncovered.

Satadip says that in some cases, it may be the quality of customer service, in others, a combination of service and product. "The comments in the survey responses from both the most satisfied and dissatisfied customers can help provide more color into what things could be fixed to improve engagement," he says.

3. Not all support channels are equal.

In part, great customer experience is about clients being able to find the information they want and need to evaluate and use a product or service quickly and easily.

"The biggest challenge with this," say Satadip, "is to provide the right information to your customers in a timely manner." Not every support channel is equal. "You need to learn to distinguish which communication channels are the most important for your customers during the various phases of a purchase lifecycle and utilize the right channels," he says. Some of the questions to consider include:

  • Is my customer looking for someone to talk to on the phone to place an order, or does my business lend itself to the order being placed online?
  • Does my website have sufficient information on it to educate my potential customers about how they can do business with me?
  • Does the question phase of my interactions with customers need to be in person or on the phone? 
  • Is there a role that "chat" could play in my initial contact with potential customers?

4. Deprioritize action and prioritize continuous improvement.

Even when a company goes to the effort to collect data, they are often at a loss with what to do with it. Satadip says that many entrepreneurs and small businesses equate data with math, and too much math can seem overwhelming. Likewise, I have noticed a certain mental challenge and intimidation factor: "We have this data. Now what?"

I found Satadip's take on this freshening and simple. "Don't try and solve for all the problems you find," he says. "Instead pick three top metrics to improve, and work on those for three months." Once you have made meaningful progress, you can swap those out for the next most important metrics.

In my experience this type of continuous improvement approach is key to gaining ground on customer satisfaction and does so in a way that keeps the company sane. In my 25-plus years of consulting, I have seen many a well-intentioned customer-experience plan fall by the wayside due to trying to measure, manage and improve too many metrics at one time.

The thing that most struck me about my conversation with Satadip was how straightforward and commonsense his approach was. For a guy who is responsible for customer success for one of the most famous companies on the planet, he was pretty down to earth. But then again, in a world where the Internet makes almost anything possible, neither common sense, nor customer excellence, is so common.