Updated: Jun 28
If you talk to the owner of the corner store or a small family-owned store or business and you mention Customer Experience, you may well see a glazed look come over the face of the person you are talking to, and they may say “Oh, we’re too small to do that kind of stuff”. But the fact is, that in most cases, small business owners “do” customer experience naturally.
They have a relationship with their customers, may well know many of them by name, talk to them about their families because they live in the same community and, just generally, care about their customers. Some just get it right out of the box and, in such cases, I would say “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”
But there are many small businesses that need more structure to the way that they do things. If small business owners look to Google for anything related to CX, the first page is populated with the likes of Harvard Business Review, McKinsey, Zendesk, and Oracle. If they venture onto Linkedin they will see Influencers telling them they need to do data analytics, arguing about the pros and cons of surveys, and more than a handful of lists of Top 50 or 100 Influencers. Not that helpful and in many cases a real turn-off.
Photo: Kyle Ryan on Unsplash
One of the elements that CX specialists all appear to agree about is that to operate in a customer-centric manner, you need to have the right culture in place. The great thing is, most small businesses already have that culture in place. They tend to hire people that fit into their organization and can adapt much more easily to conditions than large companies. You can turn a yacht in a much tighter circle than you can a supertanker! Voice of Customer? Most small business owners talk to customers continually every day and listen to what is being said. So, there is no need for any fancy surveys here. Taking the temperature of the customer relationship is an ongoing activity.
My observation has been, however, that despite the best will in the world, many small companies lack structure in their processes and this can lead to missed business opportunities or the loss of existing customers. Incidents such as phone calls that are not returned, deadlines not met or a general failure to communicate irritate customers and can cause them to look elsewhere. These failures often occur, not because of any ill will or bad intentions, but because the business owner is overwhelmed and can’t keep track of everything that is going on.
Phone calls often go unanswered because there is nobody to answer the office phone while the boss and any workers are out on the job. In some cases that I have come across, there is not even an answering machine. The phone line may be diverted to a cellphone number, but if the cellphone owner has his hands full, is halfway up a ladder, or on top of a roof, that may go unanswered also. Missed phone calls from customers are always a problem, whether they are calling to enquire about new business opportunities or calling about a repair, or even to complain about something that they are dissatisfied with. Anyone who has read “All Creatures Great & Small” by James Heriot will remember the mantra often repeated by his boss, Siegfried Farnon, “If called upon, you must attend”. By analogy, any small business owner must be reachable (during normal working hours). They have to ensure that their phone is answered, that messages are taken and that calls are returned as soon as possible. The person answering the telephone should be in a position to let the caller know when they can expect a callback. I have called small businesses before and had the owner’s mother answer the phone. I have been told when the son will be home and when I can expect a call. In most cases, that solution has been very efficient and I have been called back as expected. This demonstrates that solutions don’t need to be fancy, but they need to work.
Photo: Anna Earl on Unsplash
The issue of responsiveness also applies to whatever other means of communication a small business owner may use, e.g., e-mail, text messaging, or WhatsApp. If you are using it, make sure it’s monitored and customers don’t need to wait too long for an answer.
Another issue that I have often come across is businesses that come by to quote a job and then nothing more is heard from them. In one case I got a phone call 6 months after the person had come by to ask whether the job was still open. It might have been, but why would I give it to someone who hadn’t bothered contacting me until 6 months after they had been along to see what was required? Sometimes the reason is simply that the company doesn’t have time to do the job. That is legitimate, but it is important to communicate that to the customer, don’t just leave them hanging. The customer may well say that the job is not urgent and can wait until the contractor has the time to do the work. Leaving a customer hanging after visiting to quote work displays a lack of courtesy and is simply disrespectful. Remember that a customer has also taken time out of their day to show and explain the work required. Not following up is something that will annoy customers and will probably encourage them to look elsewhere for a supplier. If you think that you may not be able to carry out the work in a normal timeframe, be open and honest about what your capacity is and when you think you may be able to do the work. Ideally, this discussion may take place before you even take a look on-site. If your capacity and the customer’s expectations differ, then submitting a quote would be wasting everyone’s time. Remember, a customer’s time is valuable too. Don’t waste it or take it for granted.
These are just a few simple issues that I have noticed over the years with small businesses that could improve the customer experience significantly. They are simple to put in place and not very costly at all. But they have a significant and immediate impact. I have no doubt that many small business owners will read this and move on thinking that they do that already and have all the bases covered. I’m sure they do and that is great for their business and future growth. However, my experience has been that many small businesses neglect these simple processes and their business, most probably, suffers as a consequence. I saw this first hand, not that long ago, with a gardening company. Their work was absolutely first-class with amazing attention to detail. The owner was often on-site and worked also, but he was difficult to get hold of, and eventually, and sadly, his business folded.
If you are a small business owner, make sure that you are easy to reach and that you communicate well with your customers. It’s simple: you can’t give business to someone you can’t reach!
We are not too big to work with small businesses. In fact, we work with customers of all sizes to help them get their business on track in a sustainable manner. We are in the business of proposing practical cost-effective customer experience solutions for companies of all sizes and in line with your budget. Give us a call or write us an email to discuss how we can help you too!