The Big Advantage of Being a Small Business
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 in 2007.
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 service representative.
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 through.