Smaller Companies Can Excel In Customer Service
At first glance, it seems an uneven fight. After all, large companies are able to attract the most qualified customer service personnel with their higher compensation. They also have the big bucks to spend on training seminars to improve their staff’s customer handling skills.
However, in the area of customer service, the smaller business usually outshines the giant companies. Most people experience more caring service with small companies, especially if the owner is the manager. This is despite the fact that larger companies have more staff and better facilities to attend to customers.
Nevertheless, small company owners and managers cannot be complacent. The advantages can easily be squandered if you are not conscious of what these are and how to use them. You may be setting up policies and procedures that negate those strengths. It is only with a clear understanding of the source of the strengths that you could best preserve and enhance them. Some of the most important points to consider in making sure a small- or medium-sized business remains competitive in customer service includes the following:
• Start with hiring the most suitable people. Make sure that the personnel you get deliver excellent customer service. You will have fewer problems later on in training them for the job. However, since larger corporations offer higher pay and perceived job security, you must double your efforts to hire and retain such in-demand employees. There are many creative ways to bring this about without breaking the budget. One possibility is to provide incentive schemes that enable them to earn more if they reach certain service objectives. This way it could be a win-win situation for both of you.
• The owner should be as visible to the customers as possible. This is the hardest thing to do because it is stressful for the owner, but nothing beats having access to the ultimate decision maker. Being able to talk to the owner is the greatest customer confidence builder. Customers who are greeted by the proprietor himself are likely to have more delight and trust in the company. Decisions are wiser and done more promptly if the owner himself is present to deal with the issues. The main disadvantage of this style is that there may not be enough time to do other important tasks. This is why some of the most successful businesses are husband and wife teams or partners where one takes care of the customers while the other is focused on the back end work.
• The owner should be around to manage his employees. For those business owners who just cannot face customers for whatever reason, the next best thing is to be around to supervise those who do. The presence of the proprietor is in itself a tremendous motivator for the employees to serve customers better.
• Make customers perceive your product or service as viable options. While service quality is critical, customers will still not buy from you if they are not confident about your capabilities. You must strive to convince customers that your products or service are reliable, too. Document and present the competence of your company. You must build your credibility. One of the ways to do this is to get third party certifications like ISO.
• Use social media. Small business must not neglect the importance of social media. Using Facebook, Twitter, blogs and other social media websites is now one of the most effective ways of connecting with your customers. It’s very potent, as online messages spread rapidly. This is like a super energized word-of-mouth marketing campaign; company reputations can be built or destroyed very rapidly with the use of social media. There are also a growing number of people who rely on social media sites for their information needs. They feel that they are less biased and therefore more reliable than advertisements.
• Get timely and accurate feedback, and act on it fast. Since there are fewer layers of management, a small company can get information more quickly from customers. Also, since there are less people to go through, there is less distortion when it gets to the decision maker. The small company should be able to decide and act more swiftly.
• Be flexible. One of the main reasons big companies lack flexibility is the large number of rules and procedures their employees follow. Oftentimes, the rules do not tally with common sense. Unfortunately, in most big firms, the front end person or even his manager rarely have the authority to override the policy that their head office had drafted. This is a great opportunity for small businesses. You could usually decide on the spot if breaking a rule would be in the interest of the company.
Customer service is one of the few inherent advantages of small businesses over their large competitors. Still, it is an edge that must be constantly honed in order to be effective. Keep in mind that the big companies are constantly improving their customer service, so small companies must also continually strive to be better to remain ahead.
*Originally published by the Manila Bulletin. Written by Ruben Anlacan, Jr. (President, BusinessCoach, Inc.) All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or copied without express written permission of the copyright holders.