If you’re operating a side business, making the jump from part- to full-time can be pretty intimidating.

Will you have enough work? Will you be able to support yourself? Can you consistently grow and attract more business?

These are all important questions, but remember this: You have a secret weapon. You’re a superstar in the customer experience — CX — realm, so you can surprise and delight customers with the best of ’em. An A+ in customer experience is a powerful weapon when it comes to growing a side hustle into a full-fledged business.

According to data from Sprinklr, 86 percent of consumers are willing to spend more to get a better experience. But only one percent say that businesses regularly meet or exceed their expectations. See the market opportunity?

Consumers are ready and willing to try new brands and even pay more for better service, and you can be the one to provide it. With 80 percent agreeing that small businesses offer better customer experience than large chains, you’re at a pretty big advantage here. Let’s talk about leveraging that advantage into growth for your business so you can go full-time without all the anxiety.

The fundamentals of good customer experience

You know what it takes to create satisfied customers, but since we’re talking about customer experience, let’s briefly review the fundamentals of solid CX:

  • Deliver a consistently great product
  • Make it easy to adopt and use
  • Keep interactions pleasant (the customer service aspect)

Once you have the fundamentals mastered, you can take your customer experience a step further by making the experience memorable, infusing humanity into the buying process, and cultivating a personal relationship with customers. It’s at this point you can really leverage the customer experience as a way to grow your customer base and your business.

Got all that?

OK, let’s talk about growth.

Growing your business through A+ customer experience

Maybe your customer experience is great but you aren’t transitioning those experiences into more business yet, and you’re sitting there wondering why it’s such a powerful tool. Anyone can provide decent customer service, right?

Here’s the thing: 59 percent of consumers in the U.S. say they’d try a new brand in order to find a better customer service experience, and 70 percent report they’re willing to spend more money with companies who provide excellent service. When 38 percent of consumers feel dissatisfied with the customer experience, there’s a huge opportunity for CX pros like yourself to swoop in, nab new business, and keep it for the long term.

Once you have the fundamentals of providing stellar customer experience down, you can use these strategies to leverage that experience into new business that cultivates your side hustle into a full-time money maker.

1. Generate new leads

A self-sufficient referral engine is one of the most beneficial marketing tactics available to a small business owner. Once it’s up and running, a referral engine capitalizes on your ability to make customers happy and continuously churns out new leads for you to chase. And while “referral engine” might sound like a lot of work, you can easily build one into your business from the time you launch your side hustle.

How to build your referral engine

Assess your current referral business. Set up a simple, one-question survey for new customers to find out how they heard about you. You’ll be able to see where new business is coming from and find the brand advocates who are already chatting you up.

Build a foundation. Once you can see the current landscape of your referral machine, it’s time to build a foundation around it. Choose a solution like Influitive or Referral Rock that makes it radically simple for you and your brand’s cheerleaders — they’ll take care of the back end and incentives so everything runs smoothly with minimal involvement from you.

Offer incentives. That’s another important facet of a referral engine. Some customers will naturally talk about your business; others need a little nudge. That’s why it’s a good idea to offer something — a discount on a future purchase, small gift, etc. — in exchange for referrals.

Set up triggered emails that go out a certain amount of time after someone makes a purchase (you can do this with any email automation tool or directly through some referral solutions). Thank them for working with you and let them know about the referral program and the incentives available.

Once you’ve built out the engine, referrals will automatically roll in following great customer experiences — that’s as hands-off as it gets.

2. Collect customer testimonials

Online reviews and testimonials hold a lot of power when it comes to swaying purchase decisions. According to data from Sprinklr, “Opinions from participants in social communities influence purchasing decisions for 74 percent of online shoppers.” In BrightLocal’s 2014 survey, 39 percent of respondents said they regularly read online reviews in order to decide if a local business is a good business — 72 percent noted positive reviews make them trust a brand more.

How to utilize customer reviews

Assess your current referral business. Depending on the industry you’re in, a robust portfolio of reviews can help you establish a presence on sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, G2 Crowd and so on. That means you can capture the attention of consumers you wouldn’t otherwise reach — so when someone searches for a solution like yours, you can be there with bells on.

Build a foundation. One of the most powerful places for customer reviews is right on your website. Consumers are already aware of and interested in what you have to offer — positive reviews can tip them over the edge and into a purchase. Include them on your homepage, product pages — you can even create a specific testimonials page for potential customers to check out what others have to say.

Offer incentives. Another way to use customer reviews is to turn them into case studies. There’s no better way to say “Hey, this product will work for you!” than by crafting stories around how other people have used your product. If a positive reviewer matches a key buyer persona, reach out and ask for more information about their use case. Then write up a detailed study of how they use the product and post it on your website or blog.

So how do you get people to review your business?

  1. Provide a great experience.
  2. Ask.

You can even build reviewing into your referral engine and offer incentives to customers who leave a review. If you want to build up your reviews on a particular site, drive customers there by mentioning it specifically in your triggered emails.

3. Get people talking

Every marketer’s favorite tool is word-of-mouth, because it’s more or less free, and it works. Buzz has the power to carry your message a lot further than paid media can, and consumers are more likely to trust organic word-of-mouth over advertising.

In 2009, Grasshopper rebranded and created a campaign to generate buzz. The results? The campaign got coverage from big sites including Mashable and Inc., was mentioned on several national TV broadcasts, and drove nearly 52,000 visits to Grasshopper’s website in the first three months. That’s powerful.

The trick to creating buzz is to surprise and delight people to the point that they have to share the story with someone else. That’s how word-of-mouth spreads — when people can’t help but talk about you. And you don’t have to send out 25,000 chocolate-covered grasshoppers to make it happen.

How to create buzz for your business

Send gifts or thank-you notes to loyal or first-time customers. One of the advantages of working with a smaller business is the level of personalization you get. You can capitalize on that by taking the personal relationship a step further than customers expect to get them talking about you.

Share your story about customer experience, what it means to you, and how you do it by monitoring Help A Reporter Out (HARO) for journalists looking for CX experts and success stories.

Be even more amazing. Create a whole campaign around going truly above and beyond for a select group of customers. Offer in-person training on how to use your product, create a new tier of exceptional service, etc.

4. Maintain loyal customers

If there’s one thing you really want exceptional customer experience to do, it’s to keep existing customers around for the long run.

Converting new customers costs a lot more than keeping current ones around — you spend as much as 7 times more to acquire a new customer. What’s more, customers who stay with your business long term end up spending up to 10 times more than their first purchase. So let’s talk about using stellar CX to keep customers coming back for more.

You’re always focused on providing customers a great experience, but does that usually survive past the sale? CX has a big impact on customer retention when it lives on, making their life easier every time they deal with your company — not just when there’s money on the line.

How to implement customer retention efforts

Offer follow-up training. Say a customer has a problem with your product six months after they buy it, or they can’t figure out how to use it a week after the sale — your customer service should be just as good then as it was when they were considering the purchase. Offer follow-up service like training on how to use the product, warranties, etc.

Stay in touch, even between sales. A robust email campaign can help you let customers know about new products or updates, remind them when it’s time to replace, and re-engage customers who haven’t made a purchase in a while. You can reaffirm your commitment to them and drive incremental revenue for your business — a win-win.

Differentiate yourself with customer experience

If you want to grow a side business into your full-time gig, customer experience has to be a part of your growth strategy.

It’s always good practice to ensure every customer is satisfied and happy with your business — but if your strategy ends there, you’re missing out on all the value you can drive back into your business.

Make an effort to leverage that customer experience into new and repeat business, and pretty soon, you’ll have no choice but to go full-time.

Kiera Abbamonte

Kiera Abbamonte

Kiera is a a content writer who works with SaaS and ecommerce companies. Located in Boston, MA, she loves cinnamon coffee and a good baseball game. Catch up with her on Twitter or KieraAbbamonte.com