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Small BusinessesSince the pandemic small businesses have sprung up in all sectors, pushing boundaries in their quest to find the next big idea hoping to make their mark. This has been good news for the UK as small businesses account for 99% of the total business population reaching 5.5 million in 2021. They employee 12.9 million people and turnover £1.6 trillion which accounts for 36% of all businesses. Plus, bearing in mind that most in this category achieve their business operations with 0 to 9 employees it’s fair to say that small businesses are a vital component to sustaining the economy.
But the small business community is not for the faint hearted and it takes more than just a good idea to turn a profit growing year on year. Apart from economic challenges including most recently the pandemic, energy crisis, and rising inflation they must also compete with other businesses. However, in today’s business world if you want to be the best you have to offer an outstanding product or service coupled with an excellent customer experience.
Customer ServiceFinancial and accounting worries, cyber security threats, legal issues are all part of the everyday headaches for small business owners which is why most prefer to outsource.
However, customer service remains one of the areas which remains in-house based on the assumption that it can be managed regardless of knowledge or skills. Unfortunately, this decision can have dangerous repercussions. Whilst most might fair well, especially if they have small numbers of customers to grow and outshine the competition it becomes an area which must be taken seriously.
But how can this be achieved with possibly zero or a small number of staff?
Bigger players obviously have an advantage, the ability to set up their own dedicated customer management team to handle enquiries and complaints, but small businesses can also provide an experience not to be forgotten.
Understanding the customerWhilst it may sound like a cliché the only way to layout the perfect customer service pathway is to put yourself in the customers shoes. E.g., if you sell in a market where customers expect 24-hour delivery, and you can only achieve 2-3 days your business model maybe flawed. This is because your customers have preconceived expectations which have not been listened to leaving your operations vulnerable to complaints.
Instead, if you have knowledge of purchasing similar services, you can benchmark against both the best and the worst you have experienced. This will lead to a better understanding of what the customer wants and how well you need to deliver it.
Understanding the product or serviceYou shouldn’t apologise for your offering, devalue it, or equally over sell what it can do. If you are trying to compete in a crowded market alongside other more successful companies, you can still do well by adding something extra to your current service or product package.
This might include discounted bundles, a special gift or access to exclusive products or services. By doing this you can detract away from ‘an exact match’ scenario and the customer will view this as a completely different or a better version of a standard product.
Understanding KPI’sA quick glance over dozens of websites will show a common statement relating to ‘offering excellent service’, something which quickly becomes a failed promise due to a lack of measurable definitions of what makes this a reality. Therefore, you need to decide what does your excellent customer service really look like and how will this be achieved?
If you have no customers this might be just an idea, a finger in the air of sorts but at least it’s a starting point. If you already have a database of clients, you will need a way to track success against KPI’s. Ask yourself which components attribute to you being able to live up to the promise and how can these be measured.
Understanding your capabilitiesThe final element is to understand what you are capable of managing. It can be tough living up to the expectations set by bigger more established brands. Once you know your customers, have established a presence for your products or services and are able to define metrics you may decide you need additional help.
Many small businesses assume they will need to employ extra staff to manage calls and answer queries at a price they simply can’t afford. Other options include automating interactions, placing FAQs on websites and social media pages, or outsourcing to call centres who provide trained professional staff to do the work for you.
ConclusionUltimately, in a market saturated with competitors the key to standing out relates to two things the type of products or services you provide and how well you manage your customers. This includes all touch points from your website functionality, how quickly you answer the phone or reply to queries, differentiating the products or services you offer, how well they are delivered and, in some cases, right down to the packaging. Every minute detail counts.
Offering the so-called best customer service in the market only rings true if your customers agree. By understanding your customers, products and services, KPI metrics and ensuring you are capable of living up to your promise will make managing your customers easier. A failed business is often one that ignores their customers and ploughs on regardless.