Customer Service - The Key To A Successful Business.

Good customer service is absolutely vital for building lasting, profitable customer relationships, especially in the current economic climate. Companies need to work harder than ever to engage customers to persuade them to stay loyal in a competitive environment. So if you’re a small business & are unsure where to start, here are a few suggestions:

What’s Your Point Of Difference?

Being ‘cheapest"’as a point of difference can work for some, but for many it can be commercial suicide. Businesses need some margin to turn a profit. Firstly, you need a fantastic understanding of your customer base & research here is worth its weight in gold. Use the information you gain from thorough research & refine your product/service without falling into the trap of trying to be all things to all people.
Money may be tight, but people are still spending on things they value where they can, it is easy during challenging times to be tempted to give dramatic discounts, effectively ‘buying customers’ but this will only come back to bite you later & can often de-value your product or service in the customers eyes. Instead, reward loyalty & commitment, give the best deals or rewards to those who deserve it. At times, this may be more of a struggle than others; but if your business allows, investigate hire-purchase, subscription, & lease purchase options as well as long term contracts or loyalty cards/discounts.

Relationship Building

Running a small businesses, most people rapidly realise that everything is your responsibility. It’s too easy to get bogged down in the daily operations of the business & you suddenly find it’s been weeks since you last spoke to a customer.  Small business growth is underpinned by word of mouth & failing to speak to your customers directly will be detrimental to business growth in the long run. Of course, technology can assist this process but long term relationships with your customers are built on communication & interaction & not in ordering stock & doing the accounts. Try & manage your time for all tasks as a ratio in relation to how ‘customer focused’ & ultimately how ‘income producing’ they are.

Get Your Systems Right

The only way to keep tabs on a growing customer base, is to have the right systems in place. Less than a third of small businesses (30 per cent) have an up-to-date customer database & around one in ten have no database at all! Trying to keep everything under control with manual ledgers & spreadsheets when your competitors are paying attention to what customers are saying on Facebook will put you at a significant disadvantage.

Co-creation & Customer Feedback

Again, thanks to the advent of social media, it’s possible to engage with customers from the outset of the product/service development process. If you’re a local café & you found you were selling out of soup one day & not the next, you could engage with your customers in store or online about what they liked about one soup or another & evolve your menu accordingly. If you provide products or services to parents, you could engage with your customers on parenting forums to discuss specific areas of development or improvement & so on...... Wherever possible gather customer testimonials, there is nothing more effective in gaining new customers than the endorsement of an existing one!

Think Out Of The Box

Coming up with new ways to add value, solve problems, make people’s lives a little easier & sometimes even surprising them, can have a huge impact on how people see you & your brand. You don’t have to be the cheapest to stay in business even through a recession, but you do need to be practical, memorable, reliable & professional to stand the test of time!

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