Celebrating International Women's Day seems especially important this year given the (mostly terrible) news cycle of 2017. But while it's true that we've never been more aware of the challenges women face, the good news is that it's not all bad out there! I interact with women who inspire me personally and professionally every day. I think we're all pretty tired of depressing statistics, so today I'd like to put the spotlight on several female founders who are making strides in their business by staying focused on the most important thing of all: their customers. 

Candice Galek, founder and CEO of Bikini Luxe, Jennifer Goldfarb, president and co-founder of the hit beauty retailer ipsy and Stephanie Lindley, CEO of Byrd Cookie Company, generously shared their best advice for building a lasting bond with customers -- here are the highlights.

1. Offer an experience that engages and delights customers on different levels.

Online retailers can gain traction by offering the one thing that Amazon can't: an emotional connection that differentiates them and resonates with their core customer base.

For Galek, who founded Bikini Luxe in 2014 to sell high-quality swimwear at competitive prices, being sensitive to customer needs was always part of the plan. Knowing her core audience was interested in not just looking good, but in being socially conscious, she only carries brands whose wares are sustainably produced. But that was just the start -- these days, it's the company's personal approach to keeping customers happy that keeps them coming back. 

"We do fun things like spritz packages with custom scents, send handwritten cards to customers celebrating a life event, and even reply to customer service emails in the same voice we would use with our friends," said Galek.

2. Make customer service your best weapon.

For businesses, just meeting customer expectations isn't going to be enough to stand out. Even if a business has a high-quality product, they're really going to have to go above and beyond, taking the focus away from basic transactions to offering higher levels of personal service.

Ipsy puts a strong emphasis on personalized customer service. "Our ipsyCare team is on the front-lines with our customers and is representing our brand every day," said Jennifer Goldfarb. "We have empowered our team to deliver solutions with the goal of having more happy customers. Most of the time we're successful!"

For Byrd Cookie Company, which was founded in 1924, the roots of their bond with customers run deep. "Our history, legacy, and commitment to exceptional service mean a lot to our customers," says CEO Stephanie Lindley, who is also a fourth-generation owner. 

She attributes the company's staying power to an ethos Byrd has cultivated over the years: "We've created a culture of yes," said Lindley. "If a customer has a special request, we go out of our way to make it happen."

Indeed, going the proverbial extra mile was a recurrent theme with this group. "We follow up with our customers manually," said Galek. Bikini Luxe has an abandoned cart recovery rate of over 22 percent on average because they write customized emails to those who don't complete purchase and tailor it to their habits while on the website. While time intensive, it translates to happy customers.

3. Get a pulse on what your customers are saying.

What customers think about your product is one of the most important factors in determining whether a first-time purchase becomes repeated, long-term business. That's particularly true for B2B companies where new, satisfied customers can go on to represent loyal and lucrative relationships. But the same is true for consumer-focused companies.

Goldfarb's advice to entrepreneurs is to focus on creating a great product from day one. "Your brand is what customers say about you, not what you tell them you are. Spend your money and time investing in the experience you want your customers to have," she said. "Let your customers love your brand so much that they want to tell their friends. That kind of organic, word-of-mouth marketing is priceless, and once you have it, you can grow from there."

And don't forget to listen to what customers aren't saying to your face. "I also obsessively follow the conversation on our social channels and follow threads about ipsy on other platforms like Reddit," says Goldfarb. "As the business grows, this practice helps me keep my finger on the pulse of the community."

Speaking of social media, do you have a woman you'd like to recognize for her contributions to the world? Give her a shout out using the hashtag #PressforProgress and help push the movement for gender parity forward. Happy International Women's Day!

Published on: Mar 8, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.