This articles come from The Five Steps to Building a Successful Business course. This course is the product of working with small businesses for twenty-plus years and asking a simple question: Why do certain businesses succeed while so many struggle and ultimately fail? The Five Steps to Building a Successful Business will teach you how to successfully start and grow a business, or turn a struggling enterprise around. Check out more articles from the Five Steps series.

Before we dig into step number two of the Five Steps to Building a Successful Business, I have a few left-field questions to pose:  

  1. If you are married or have a significant other, why exactly did you choose them?  Why exactly did they choose you?
  2. Why is your best friend your best friend? Why are you theirs? 
  3. Why do you keep seeing your barber or your hairdresser?
  4. What about your doctor, your mechanic, your accountant?  Why do you stick with them?  How committed are you to them?  What would make you leave for someone else?  How far do you go out of your way to refer others to them?  Why?

Think about it.  Think deeply.  What about your significant other or best friend?  There are many fish in the sea, as the saying goes.  How do two choose each other from a vast ocean of options?  Why do they stick together through the ups and downs of life?  

If you’re having a difficult time coming up with a specific answer, don’t worry.  Poets and philosophers (not to mention psychiatrists and bio-chemists) have been pondering these questions since time immemorial.  And, their progress to date? It’s best summarized by romance novelist Susan Elizabeth Phillips who writes, “There is no accounting for the mysteries of the human heart.”

Well, that settles that – meaningful, interpersonal relationships are complex.  But what about business relationships?  Why do we choose one business to cut our hair, fill our cavities, or prepare our tax returns?  Why drive past four or five auto service centers to have our mechanic fix our brakes?  

Think about your business relationships.  To which businesses are your commitments merely transactional - price or convenience-driven?  To which companies have you developed more committed relationships?  Whom do you forego less expensive options to patronize?  What businesses do you trust enough to forgive transgressions?  Why do you go out of your way to actively refer certain sellers to others?  Why?

Now, what about your business? Why should customers choose you out of a great sea of options?  Why should they pay a premium for your product or service?  Why put their reputation on the line to refer you to friends and colleagues?

There is an answer to these questions. It’s called: the Customer Experience. 

The Customer Experience: The underlying premise of Step Two of the Five Steps to Building a Successful Business is this:

  1. Customers have a myriad of options to satisfy the same need or want.  
  2. Therefore, they choose to buy from one business over all these options for reasons beyond the product or service alone.
  3. Customers buy from one enterprise over all others because of the EXPERIENCE of purchasing from that business.

What is the Customer Experience? Trying to define the term experience, let alone the Customer Experience, is as complex and elusive as the mysterious human heart - and equally baffling to philosophers and neuroscientists.  Fortunately, being a philosopher or neuroscientist is not a prerequisite for building a successful business.  For our purposes in the Five Steps to Building a Successful Business, the most critical aspect of the Customer Experience is the vast difference between “what” a company sells and “why” customers purchase.

What vs. Why: To illustrate the difference between the product or service your business sells (or will sell) and the reason customers purchase that product or service, answer the following questions:

  1. What product or service does (or will) your business sell in the marketplace?
  2. Why should a customer choose to purchase that product or service from your business?

Take a look at the first question.  You can answer without even thinking about it.  Of course, you know the product or service you sell!  But what you sell also is a thing; it’s a noun.  Even if you sell a service, you are still selling a noun.  Auto mechanics sell fixed cars.  Housekeeper? Clean(er) houses.  Dentists - clean teeth and a healthy smile.

Now, what about the second question?  Why should a customer purchase that product or service from you?  Notice how different this question is from the first.  The word why is a motivator – a call to action.  Why is the tipping point – it’s the reason customers forego all other sellers to buy from one seller – you!

In workshops, I often pose these questions using the following exercise.  It seems a little over-the-top until you realize the many options a modern customer has to satisfy the same need or want. Here it is:  

Picture a Main Street in heartland America.  A paved two-way street separates a pair of greying sidewalks.  Green street lamps with yellow bows dot each sidewalk.  Due to a city ordinance, all storefronts are brick, glass, and nearly identical.   Now imagine that every shop sells the same product as your business at the near-same price.  When one owner lowers their fee, all others do the same. 

Now answer this question: Why will customers repeatedly walk past your neighbors to purchase from your store?

When you finally arrive at one, your answer will be much more than your product or service alone.  It will be detailed and focused on every aspect of your business that comes into contact with customers and those you want to become customers.  This everything is your WHY, and this WHY is THE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE.


Experience Observations: Before we move on to the next lesson, let’s make a few observations about the Customer Experience. 

  • The Customer Experience is the summation of everything a current or would-be customer knows about your business.  Everything means everything. 
  • The Customer Experience starts before a prospect becomes a customer and exists long after the purchase.
  • Although some measure of the Customer Experience is conscious, much occurs subconsciously.  Therefore, like the relationships discussed at the beginning of this chapter, it isn’t easy to describe.
  • The Customer Experience is continuous and gets created whether you like it or not.  Let me repeat that – Experience gets made whether you want one or not! 
  • Successful owners make the Customer Experience an intentional creation.  It becomes the core of their business identity.
  • Successful owners create and maintain a consistent experience for their customers by using systems (Step Four

The Customer Experience is essential to achieving business success.  It’s the reason some businesses can charge more than others. It’s why they have loyal customers and why those customers go out of their way to refer their family, friends, and colleagues!

Next Steps

If you found this lesson helpful, please check out The Five Steps to Building a Successful Business.  It teaches everything you need to construct a fantastic new business or transform an existing business into one!

All courses and articles are for informational purposes only and do not constitute tax advice. Taxes are complicated - do not act on course information without consulting a professional. Always refer to treasury regulation before making any tax decision. Read the full disclaimer.

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