It's often been said that small businesses are the heartbeat of any growing economy. Nimbleness, less red tape and quick decisions are some of the advantages of being a small business. When interacting with small business owners, quite naturally customer service becomes the topic of discussion. I'm often asked "Errol, should I go to all the trouble of developing a customer service strategy?" My response is "Yes you should! If you expect to retain your present customers, thereby growing your business through retention and referrals, then developing a customer service strategy is a smart step to take." Here are several suggestions for the small business owner.
Act Like You're Already There! - Most small business owners operate with the hopes of one day being a large company. Go ahead and act like a large business by developing customer service strategies that incent your customers to remain loyal to your brand. Decide how you will interact with your customer - What will you do when your customer calls? How many rings before you answer the phone? When your customer leaves a voice mail, how long will you take before returning that call? When your customer enters your establishment, how long will it be before that customer's presence is acknowledged? How will you determine what's important to your customer in regards to your product/service? When your customer emails, how long before you respond? When you have a long-term project, how often will you provide updates? When your customer complains about your product/service, what will you do next? Now I hear some small business owners saying "Errol, I don't have time for that! I'm too busy running my business!" It's important to spend time working on your business which means answering those questions! Taking the time to do so will certainly lead to establishing operational standards which should transfer into a great customer experience.
Examine Your Processes - Most large organizations understand the need for process documentation, process analysis and process improvement projects. In their quest for growth, small business should regularly take a look at "how they do what they do" Identify your core processes - for example - customer request for product/service, order fulfillment, product delivery, and customer invoicing. What are the current steps for each of your core processes? What exactly does the customer encounter when interacting with your company? Are they customer friendly - for both the purchasing customer as well as internal customers (you may not have too many internal customers yet, but if you have just one other person involved in the day-to-day operation of your business, that's an internal customer.) Taking this step assists one in identifying exactly what is taking place on a daily basis. Search for improvement opportunities and make the necessary adjustments to insure that your purchasing customer receives a great customer experience.
Establish Operational Metrics - Just as most large companies tend to identify what's important to measure, it's critical that small business owners do the same. Operational metrics act as a barometer to assist you in knowing how your business is functioning. A great way to determine what to measure is to simply ask your customer what's important to them about your product or service. For example, how about establishing operational goals for Order Fulfillment, Email Response, On Time Appointments, Customer Complaints just to name a few. Now I'm big on percentages so let's go a step further - % of Orders Fulfilled Within Established Goal, % of Emails Responded to Within Established Goal, % of On time Appointments To Established Goal. Utilizing percentages helps one to see at what level the operation is performing in relation to the established goals. Once it's clear where the operation stands, take the time to get the story behind the number. If an area is performing below the established goal, take a look at what impacts that particular situation. There's a story behind every number. Take the time to get the story before making any changes. Your willingness to establish operational metrics allows for proactive management of your company instead of reacting to customer complaints or to a customer's decision to stop utilizing your products or services.
Running a small business can be a daunting task requiring the owner to wear multiple hats. In your quest to grow your business, remember to Act Like You're Already There by developing customer service strategies, Examine Your Processes to insure they are both customer and employee friendly and Establish Operational Metrics to always know the pulse of your business. By taking these steps, you greatly enhance your opportunities for growth!