Today’s consumers expect a seamless experience, whether they’re making a retail purchase, dining at a restaurant, or using a software application. As a small business, it’s essential to make the customer experience a top priority, especially if you want to stand out against larger competitors.

This installment of Start. Run. Grow. is all about creating a seamless and innovative customer service operation. In a series of entrepreneur and expert interviews, CO—’s Editor-in-Chief Jeanette Mulvey and Senior Features Editor Barbara Thau explored how to assess and address customer needs, build a system for real-time customer interaction, and take advantage of the latest tech and trends shaping the customer service space.

Start: Be consistent and go beyond the transaction in your customer interactions

Roy Rivera, CEO of Crom Rehabilitation, started his outpatient physical therapy practice because he had his own vision for how he wanted to treat patients and create a culture of great customer service. For Rivera, a great customer experience means having a consistent flow and follow-through throughout every customer touchpoint in your operations.

“From the moment of engagement from the beginning all the way to the very end, [you need] a consistent follow-through,” he said. “You can't have any breakdown in your system … because if you do, your patient, your client, your customer is going to notice it.”

Rivera used the restaurant ordering experience as an example.

“[The customer] might have had a great experience on the phone if they were ordering a meal to go … but then when they get there, if the person who's at the cash register is rude or nasty to them, then that breaks down the [system],” he explained.

In addition to consistency, Rivera noted that businesses should aim to go “above and beyond” during client or customer interactions to show them they are more than just another sales transaction.

“Whether you play a role that is custodial, administrative, or clinical, there’s an opportunity to engage with the client beyond just the basic ... business interaction,” he told CO—. “If it's just a transaction, that's where you lose your customers or clients because they can go somewhere else.”

[Read more: Losing Customers to Competitors? Here Are 4 Steps to Win Them Back]

Run: Leverage technology to form lasting personal relationships with customers

According to Barry Moltz, a small business expert from Shafran Moltz Group LLC, if a small business can form a personal relationship with its customers, it will be better able to retain them. He noted that small businesses have more of an opportunity to do this than large businesses because they typically have fewer customers and more touchpoints.

“There's … more contact between the customer's personal [phone] or email … and the business,” he said. “They .. have an opportunity to set up their systems so they're constantly in touch with customers on an ongoing basis.”

For example, said Moltz, a dentist may send an automated text with an appointment reminder, then follow up afterward asking how the patient is feeling after their visit.

“All of those kinds of things are really the personal touch that … enables you to stay close with your customer,” he added.

To help businesses stay on top of these frequent communications and further personalize your interactions, Moltz recommended investing in customer relationship management (CRM) software.

“Technology is there to … put your notes in about what the last contact with the customer was, and then also to automatically send texts or emails so you stay in touch with them,” he explained. “Too many people are so focused on getting new customers in the front door that they forget about their existing customers, [who] escape through the back door.”

[Read more: How to Choose the Best CRM Software]

Grow: Take every opportunity to learn from your customers

“Customer obsession” is an often-used corporate phrase, but for Saeju Jeong, CEO and Co-founder of Noom, it’s the very reason his company has been able to stand out in the highly saturated weight loss market. It goes beyond caring about customer satisfaction, he said: Customer obsession is a commitment to improving based on customer feedback.

“If the customer contacts us … they are so charged with emotion,” said Jeong. “Either they're happy or unhappy, and they have a lot to say about our product experience. Whether good or bad … it is an excellent opportunity [to] learn from our user.”

Jeong added that the insights gathered from the customer support team can help generate new ideas among Noom’s product managers and leaders, which can then be tested and implemented to improve the customer experience.

“We need to deliver great outcomes that our users can actually measure and be happy [with], he said. “That focus [on great outcomes] delivers a far better-engaged experience and … because of that focus, our product people were able to develop … features that can respond much better [to users’ needs].”

[Read more: How to Survey Your Customers and Why You Should]

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.