By our second lap around The Tan walking track in Melbourne, a girlfriend and I had covered off relationships, kids and health and were on to our favourite shared topic—travel. I’m off to Europe soon and my friend mentioned her dad is too, flying business class.

And he’s not just getting a flat-bed seat, chef’s menu and pyjamas. As part of the airline’s biz class offering, a driver is picking him up from home for the airport run, and another will be waiting for him in Paris to drive him to his hotel. The same personalised driver service applies for the return trip.

I’ve been lucky enough to travel business class overseas for a few work trips and was never offered a bonus service like this. Sure, with what you pay for a business class seat these days—a return trip to Europe is at least $10K—the airline can afford to throw in chauffeured rides and the high-flying passenger could afford to stump up for an airport Uber.

The money isn’t the point, though. It’s the bonus extra. The ‘we value your custom’ unexpected luxury touches. It’s about a brand or business making their customers feel special.

It’s all about customer experience.

In 2017 I took my kids to America and the place they loved most was the Magic Castle Hotel in Los Angeles. It’s not fancy—just a mid-range hotel which has been gussied up with a bit of paint and lobby mirrors. Yet it’s the most highly desired hotel for families in LA and is consistently sold out even at $500 a night.

Why? Because the Magic Castle focuses all its marketing efforts on delivering extraordinary customer service with three things: a poolside Popsicle hotline where you use an old-school red phone to order immediate delivery of free icy poles, free unlimited snacks in the lobby instead of mini bars and a free laundry service where your clothes are returned gift wrapped and with a sprig of lavender and a hand-written note.

Now when I’m coaching a new client, I ask what their popsicle hotline is—what it is that they’re doing to improve customer service. Because the more you do that, the less you need to rely on paid advertising or marketing.

According to Forbes, companies that lead in customer experience outperform laggards by nearly 80%. 84% of companies that work to improve their customer experience report an increase in their revenue. And 73% of companies with above-average customer experience perform better financially than their competitors.

An awesome customer experience is super important to brands. It drives customer loyalty, differentiation, retention, positive brand reputation, business growth and profitability. Brands that prioritize and invest in delivering extraordinary experiences create in-built brand advocates and gain a significant advantage in today’s competitive business landscape.

So how do you deliver an awesome experience on a tiny marketing budget?

  1. Be engaged. Provide opportunities for customers to interact with you on social media, live chat, blog comments, webinars. Invest regular time into connecting with customers so you develop a relationship while gathering really rich insights into your target audience. Engage in social listening by responding to customer comments and use any feedback to improve your products, services and customer experience continually. Social listening shows customers you value their opinions and are committed to meeting their needs. You get their pain points, desires and expectations.

  2. Be responsive. If problems crop up in your business—and they will, it’s part of the ride—it’s how you deal with these mistakes that will set you apart from competitors. Most problems can be solved easily without damaging the relationships if you have a process of support and take the lead in resolution. Leave any negative comments on your site—it provides an excellent opportunity to show how you handle issues and makes positive reviews look more legitimate.

  3. Be extraordinary. The fastest way to build your army of raving fans is to exceed expectations. Surprise and delight your customer. Take a proactive approach and ask what is the unexpected thing you could do for a customer. It could be a handwritten note or a bonus service offering. It doesn’t have to be big, just thoughtful and targeted.

  4. Personalise your business interactions. Treat your customers as real people by leveraging customer data to understand their preferences, purchase history and demographic information. Use this to tailor your marketing messages and offers. Personalisation makes customers feel valued and understood, which sparks increased engagement and loyalty.

  5. Constantly innovate. Stay ahead of the competition and meet evolving customer expectations by embracing a culture of innovation. Regularly assess customer needs and preferences and invest in research and development to introduce new products. This showcases your commitment to staying relevant and delighting customers.

Prioritising customer experience is crucial for the long-term success of any brand. Remember, a satisfied customer is not only likely to remain loyal but also become an advocate for your brand, driving positive word of mouth and attracting new customers.