According to a study conducted by small business marketing agency Cargo and online research solutions provider Toluna, nearly half (47.3 percent) of participating small business owners believe offering sub-par customer service is the most common mistake companies make, as reported by eMarketer.
Respondents also pointed to the following reasons that they have changed brands or companies with which they do business:
- Dealing with bad customer service overall (17.3 percent)
- Being attracted to better products, services or support offered by a new brand (16.7 percent)
- Having a specific bad experience (14 percent)
- Discovering new products and services elsewhere that will improve business (13.3 percent)
- Being lured by other brands’ special promotions, deals or other sales offers (5.3 percent)
- Feeling as if it’s simply “time for a change” (5.3 percent)
(Note that two out of the top three are specifically related to customer service.)
The small business advantage
When it comes right down to it, people want to be treated like people – not numbers on a sales log, not names on an email or direct mailing list and certainly not the dollar amounts of their purchases. So how can you use this to increase your sales and loyalty? Never forget that as a small business owner, you have at least one very distinct advantage over the big brands: a personal touch.
It could be said that small businesses are better equipped to offer a personalized, high-quality customer experience compared to their bigger counterparts. After all, within a small business environment, employees and customers enjoy more of a chance to get to know each other on a one-to-one basis, a luxury not afforded to large corporations who handle customer care from within the confines of a cubicle-packed call center.
This state of affairs makes processes such as browsing through the menu and paying for items at the register seem warm and friendly – a significant departure from the often cold and impersonal reception that consumers might experience when patronizing chain restaurants or big-box retailers.
“Familiarity is the key to success,” Robert Williams, executive director of the Center for Economic and Entrepreneurship Education at Misericordia University in Dallas, Pennsylvania, told The Times Tribune. “Everyone wants to feel like Norm walking into Cheers.”
Going beyond face to face
Greeting shoppers by name when they walk into your establishment is a great way to forge a connection, but it isn’t the only approach owners and staff can take to improve the customer experience. For instance, consider consumers to whom you ship items but don’t actually ever interact with in person. Sliding a handwritten note into a package is a great way to add a personal touch.
Looking for a way to make the people on your mailing list feel special? Set your label-maker to the side and address correspondence by hand. These may seem like small, insignificant ways to build loyalty and satisfaction across the customer base, but at the end of the day, sometimes it’s the little things that mean the most. What’s more, from a business marketing perspective, how much correspondence nowadays do you think is handwritten? Not a lot, which means your mailings are likely to stand out.
Getting social with customer service
Don’t just restrict the small business experience to in-person and mail-based interactions – take your approach to social networks, too. Try to respond to as many comments, queries and complaints as you can in a timely manner, whether your company has a social presence on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or all of the above. Consumers will appreciate that you took the time to give them individual attention, and the effort you put into replying might even transform a complaining customer into a brand evangelist.
If you haven’t gotten a lot of interaction yet on social media, don’t be afraid to be proactive! Take matters into your own hands (without being annoying) and interact with them too. Like your followers’ statuses, posts and pictures. The more they see the personality behind your brand, the more they’ll engage with you online and in person.
Does your business go above and beyond to ensure an amazing customer experience? Share your customer service successes in the comments below!