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The Advantages of a Small Business

Catherine has 30 years experience in the customer service sector having worked as both a retail manager and a company sales representative.

The handshake is still a valuable part of an interpersonal business relationship.

The handshake is still a valuable part of an interpersonal business relationship.

Today's economic instability throws a real challenge at business owners, especially those without corporate backing. As more brick and mortar stores are closing over online competition, how can "mom and pop" businesses compete?

Elements of a Good Business

  • Great products and services
  • Product knowledge
  • Solid operating procedures
  • Financial stability
  • Courtesy toward customers and vendors
  • Consistent service and availability of products

Raising the Bar on Customer Service

In 1968, my best friend was visiting her aunt in New Jersey. They were playing gin rummy and chatting away when they heard a loud rumble coming up the long driveway to the house. Puzzled, they both ran out to see a big Coca-Cola truck in the turnaround.

Two weeks earlier her aunt had written a letter to Coca-Cola's corporate office in Atlanta to alert them of a bottle with a broken lip she had found in a batch of sodas from her fridge. She felt it was the responsible thing to do. Coca-Cola responded with a letter of apology and thanked her for her concern. She was impressed that they had even taken the time to reply. Imagine her total surprise when she was handed a second note that hoped the 48 complimentary sodas would right any wrong caused by the company! Going beyond the routine and leaving a lasting and positive impression is exemplary customer service. They had created a happy customer for life!

Company Size Doesn't Change Business Principles

Regardless of business size, the basic principles are the same.

  • Know company products, services, and policies so to avoid mistakes. This enables customizing options for value and convenience and makes customers feel special.
  • Follow through on promises and handle them in a timely manner. This builds trust and loyalty.
  • Be friendly and helpful, not arrogant or annoyed. Generally, customers want to be shown to a particular section, then left to browse, not hovered over. Avoid sending a message of mistrust. Follow the customer's lead.
  • Keep information in layman's terms. There is a fine line between being knowledgeable and being intimidating. Let the customer ask for more technical information.
  • Be careful to not overwhelm customers with options. A comfortable customer will stick around and will want to return.
  • Ask open-ended questions rather than yes or no queries. It's an opportunity to garner key tips to the customer's needs. Casual conversation eases tension and is the first step to growing a business relationship.

Key Strategies For Keeping Customers Happy

  • Ask for the Business: The most overlooked part of sales is asking potential customers for their business and loyalty. People need to know that you want them as customers more than your competitor.
  • Follow Up: Following up with a customer shows that a business is committed to a business relationship. A thank-you note or e-mail shows appreciation. A satisfaction survey invites constructive criticism, and incentives invite customers back. Remembering specific transactions or personal facts about a customer shows an individual interest and often makes that person feel like more than a faceless consumer.
  • Show Courtesy: Courtesy goes a long way, especially when the customer is sour. Often a smile or a warm greeting will bring a nasty person out of a funk. Most often a dissatisfied customer just wants to be heard. Shoppers and callers should be allowed to vent. In circumstances with irate customers, it is best to turn the case over to a manager who has the authority to be flexible with company policies. Angry customers are not good for a company's reputation.
  • Protect Your Reputation: Companies which consistently adhere to the elements of good business practices have stellar reputations that keep their brands strong even in the midst of crisis. Take Toyota, for example. The accelerator/ floor mat debacle in 2010 could have ruined the company, but its swift action in recalling vehicles, opening an investigation, and assuring customers that its autos were safe instilled confidence. Toyota still had a mess on its hands, but quick damage control and a solid reputation for quality, safety, and excellent customer service kept them on solid ground. Wells Fargo, on the other hand, is still struggling to rebuild its reputation after unethical practices undermined their customers' trust.
  • Reach Out Through Effective Marketing: The large successful chains claim to know their customers. These companies have collected data for the average customer profile, their shopping habits, demographics, lifestyle, and preferences. They are able to spend millions on advertising to target this group, and sustain interest through innovative marketing campaigns. A small company, however, doesn't need a massive budget to do this. Word of mouth is also effective. Thriving businesses are successful at attracting new customers to offset those who are lured away by competitors, relocate, or pass away.
  • Understand Your Customer's Needs: Sometimes a customer's intent isn't to buy a thing. Shopping may be a diversion or a quest for simple advice. A few minutes of active listening without concern for a sale can be beneficial. It takes patience to build trust and rapport. Even when lines are long, a welcoming smile and warm greeting is appreciated. It is also important to be respectful of a customer's time. If staff is short-handed and lines are long, those waiting should be politely informed of a delay, so they can decide to wait or not.

According to the Bloomberg Report on small business, "Walmart might spend a meager 0.4% of sales on advertising, the sheer size of the company turns that tiny percentage into a significant budget. Walmart's nominally higher-margin competitor, Target spends closer to 2% of its sales on advertising, while Best Buy, as a specialty retailer, spends upwards of 3%. Finally, more upscale stores like Macy's typically spend on the order of 5%. The same kind of ratios can be seen in the car industry (automakers' generally spend 2.5% to 3.5% of revenue on marketing), liquor (5.5% to 7.5%), packaged goods (4% to 10%) as in every other industry."

Smaller business can't keep up with corporate ones in terms of marketing, but they do have a huge advantage. Business owners and managers can leverage more direct control over daily operations and customer service. Complaints with big businesses tend to fall through the cracks. Customers see these business giants as faceless entities. Mishandling unhappy customers, failing to follow through on promises, and being inconsistent with goods and services will serve to negate all the benefits of clever marketing. Word of mouth travels like wildfire when a customer is dissatisfied. Negative advertising is unfortunately very effective and can change the tide for even well-established companies with past success. Smaller businesses have greater potential for building face to face relationships and more opportunities for effective problem resolution.

A Unique Opportunity

In tough economic times when mom and pop businesses are struggling to compete, there is a unique opportunity to thrive instead of fail.

Raise the bar on customer service. Take advantage of the latitude to offer solutions with a hands-on approach. Make it exemplary.

Let happy customers do the marketing for you through their glowing reviews. In terms of business success, customer service is the Golden Goose.

Once you have customers, ask for the privilege of keeping their loyalty and show appreciation for their business. The relationships will grow vigorously.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2012 Catherine Tally

Comments

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on January 16, 2013:

Hello Seeker7,

I am glad that you found my thoughts and advice on customer service helpful. I appreciate hearing the things that give first impressions- the things that make or break a business relationship. These are important for owners/managers to know, so they can make corrections. Thank you for stopping by and for leaving your thoughtful comments.

Cat :)

Helen Murphy Howell from Fife, Scotland on January 16, 2013:

This is a great hub with excellent advice.

I don't own a company as such - being self-employed - but your advice and information should be adopted by the self-employed and small businesses as well as the large ones.

I liked in particular the part about courtesy. It makes such a difference if you visit a shop or telephone a company and the person or voice is warm, friendly and welcoming. This immediately gives out good vibes about the company and the employees they have!

Here's hoping that the not so good companies read your hub and learn a lot about how to run their business properly!!

Great hub + voted up!!

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on January 10, 2013:

Hello Felipe,

I really love being able to shop from home, and good customer support makes all the difference. Thank you for stopping by to read and comment!

Cat :)

Felipe717 from Philadelphia, PA on January 10, 2013:

Good customer service makes a big difference especially when customers have the many choices they have today. Customers don't even have to leave their house with the internet these days.

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on January 07, 2013:

Hello MoniMas,

I really think business owners must love people and be passionate about their products/services. I like to support the small independent businesses as much as possible. Thank you for being such a loyal follower and for leaving your thoughtful comment. I appreciate the awesome vote!

My best .

-Cat :)

Agnes on January 07, 2013:

Interesting hub, a lot of good points. My husband and I owned a business in the past, and let me tell you, it isn't easy! Customers can really make or break your day! Voted Awesome!!!

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on September 13, 2012:

Good morning, kashmir:) Thank you for the glowing review! It really is a shame that some businesses either don't care or are blind to their shortcomings in customer care. I really do hope that business owners struggling to survive will recognize the power of great customer service and use it to their advantage. I'm glad that you stopped by to read and comment. It's always good to see you here!

Thomas Silvia from Massachusetts on September 13, 2012:

Great well written hub, yes good customer service is so important but yet some stores and business are below par on giving real good services to their customers . But maybe they could read your hub and fix that. Well done !

Vote up and more !!!

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on September 12, 2012:

Hi freecampingaussie :) Thank you for the nice comment and vote up. I will check out your hub. Thanks!

freecampingaussie from Southern Spain on September 12, 2012:

Good customer service is so important yet lacking in so many places . I have a hub about this & also Grocery shopping etiquette as it works both ways . Found you hub hopping & voted you up !