A customer's experience doesn't begin when she lands on your website or sets foot in your store. Likewise, it doesn't end when she walks away from her laptop or the store. It begins the moment she hears about you and continues through every interaction with you--her first visual experience of the brand, her phone interactions with customer service or her experience in a store, her selection and checkout process, her anticipation of receiving a package in the mail, her unwrapping of the box and poring over the materials inside, and her use of your product.

Each touch point means you have decisions to make about how you'll present yourself to your customer. To create long-lasting customer relationships, keep one principle in mind at every turn: consistency.

Create Your Brand Proposition

The first step toward consistency is determining what your one-of-a-kind brand proposition is. When my three co-founders and I started Warby Parker in 2010, our primary intention was to sell good-looking, affordable eyewear online. But that's not a brand. It took some growing pains before we cemented our unique proposition, which is to be a transformative lifestyle brand selling designer eyewear at revolutionary prices while leading the way for socially conscious businesses. The way we got to this proposition was, in part, through hands-on interactions with customers.

From the beginning, we believed that it was possible to develop direct relationships with customers at a relatively cheap cost, and our plan was to build a lifestyle brand that was also an Internet company--a rarity for eyewear. Upon our launch, we were lucky enough to be featured in Vogue and GQ as both a disruptive force and a fashion force, which helped us to surpass our opening goals nearly immediately, hitting first-year sales targets in three weeks and selling out of our top 15 styles a week later. We also had to suspend our Home Try-On program 48 hours after opening our (digital) doors, which meant that people started calling in to ask if they could swing by the office and see the glasses in person.

The only problem was that our "office" was my tiny apartment in Philadelphia, and our "display case" was the dining table we used for late-night Thai delivery feasts. We had no experience interacting with customers in a live retail setting, but we intuited that watching them shop would give us access to information that we could use to refine a consistent experience. When customers visited, they picked up glasses, inspected them, tried them on, and chatted with us. We took notes on which glasses people tended to pick up first and which pairs they looked best in, and then used these observations to inform the way we merchandised on our site (and, later, in our physical stores). We asked people what they were looking for and how they heard about us, and funneled these observations into our marketing strategy. We learned that people were much more adventurous than we gave them credit for, as far as trying more colorful or directional styles of frame. This led us to feature the less-conservative styles more prominently on our site.

Learn From Customer Interactions

Our digital endeavor quickly put us face to face with our early customers, a lot of whom remain loyal supporters, and these one-on-one phone calls and interactions set a precedent for how we would engage as we grew. Building a consistent experience and firm identity was instrumental in our ability to swiftly build our online presence, open four stores as well as a mobile store in a converted yellow school bus, and launch six shops-in-shops.

No matter how a customer reaches us, our goal is always the same: to offer a world of beautiful design, imagery, and experience while providing value and service that leaves customers in a remarkable mood, every time. At the end of the day, success will come to retailers that are experience-focused but medium-agnostic.

Published on: Feb 11, 2014
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.