In a way, a small business has a distinct burden when compared
to its larger counterparts — every single customer is
crucial to success. What’s more, consumers know this and they
expect that you do, too. It’s the very reason they often choose
small business — they want special treatment. But hidden
within this burden lies a tremendous opportunity.
A Gallup poll from late July, 2010, shows that U.S. consumers
have supreme confidence in small business. In
fact, small business confidence absolutely dwarfs the
same sentiment when it comes to big business. When
asked, 66 percent of respondents replied that they have
“a great deal/quite a lot” of confidence in small businesses,
as opposed to 19 percent who said the same
about big business. And it’s growing — 59 percent expressed
confidence in small business in the same poll
The key word here is confidence — another way of
saying “trust.” As a small business, this is something we
can provide with two little words: Customer Service.
Online retailer Zappos has a sterling reputation for
great customer relations. Search for Zappos on Twitter
and Facebook and you will find the same. I’ve witnessed
this personally, on several occasions. My questions were
answered promptly and thoroughly, and the company
was not satisfied until I felt completely satisfied. Today,
I shop Zappos before anywhere else — because I know
that should an issue arise, it will be rectified. That confidence
means everything to me, particularly online
where I cannot typically get “face time” with a customer
On the other end, I recently had an experience with a
major airline that left me speechless in disgust. Without
getting into the details, I was told that the issue was
my fault and that there would be no solution offered,
of any kind.
Why is it acceptable for this business to operate
with such poor customer service? Traditionally, because
of the lack of serious competition — a luxury that you,
as a small business, do not enjoy.
However, as a small business, great customer service
can be achieved relatively pain-free. Simply create
touch points for your consumers (easy-to-find contact
information, social media accounts, 1-800 numbers)
and be sure to monitor them regularly and reply
promptly, even if you do not yet have a solution. A simple
response is enough for most consumers to remain
patient while the problem is solved. Lack of a timely response,
however, is reason enough for them to look
elsewhere (and to tell all of their friends about it).
Chances are your business does not have a massive consumer
base that would make managing these inquiries
a serious challenge anyway.
But keep your limitations as a small business in
mind. For example, should you choose to employ live
Web chat on your website, make sure someone is there
to respond to a user-initiated session. Or, if you know
that messages will not be returned immediately, set up
an autoresponder or appropriate voicemail message.
autoresponder or appropriate voicemail message.
It’s true that some customers will never be satisfied
no matter how hard we try, and that some issues simply
cannot be solved within reason. In those cases,
what’s important is that the effort is put forth. Even an
unsatisfied customer will hesitate to defame a company
when an honest effort is made.
What’s important to understand is that customer
service transcends industries, products and marketing
budgets. It is the one even ground on which every company
— of every size — can compete. In fact, by its very
nature, big business is freely giving the “little guys” a
sizable advantage in this area. All you have to do is follow