Beat the big guys

Features - Planning & Strategy

Solid customer service comes through again, this time as a way to fend off large national competitors.

October 24, 2013

How is your business doing against the large national companies in your industry? Are you competing or just surviving? There’s an old adage that states – The best defense is a great offense. And a great offense attacks its competitor’s weaknesses.

Whether it’s a snow and ice management company or a retailer, a large competitor’s weakness will likely be customer service. They all have policies and rules on how to treat a customer, but many employees just follow them in a robot-like manner.

What’s missing is the personal touch and the we-care attitude. You can’t teach attitude, there needs to be a reason why a person does their job with a customer-care demeanor. In a smaller business, you need a team unity that the owners instill in their employees by showing them that their job matters. And their job security depends on how the customer is treated so they will return. The business can’t survive, grow, and prosper without each employee creating an atmosphere of caring for the customer.

Here’s a solid example of this. I remember a visit to a large national office supply store and trying to find a ribbon for our typewriter. Since I hadn’t purchased this item before, I wasn’t sure where in the store to find it so I asked someone stocking a shelf in the copy paper section. They said they don’t work in the ribbon section but they would call someone.

The loudspeaker announced my situation and I was told to stand in the center aisle and wait. After two minutes, which seems long when you’re just standing there, I decided I would just go back to the office and order it from the catalog and wait the extra day.

As I was leaving, I also noticed about five people in line to check-out, and only one cashier. There were about 20 or more people working or standing around in that store and only one check-out open.

We have since found a smaller local company that specializes in ribbons and toner. They stock new and old models and always try to keep them in stock. They have our business now and their employees are even knowledgeable about the products. A slight difference in price is well worth the added service.

As a small business owner, can you see several areas where you can attack this large company customer service negligence? Every time I think of going to a large company store, I anticipate the hassle and aggravation of poor customer service.

Rarely do you experience anyone going out of their way to offer that personal service and sincere help. Some employees will even make you feel that you’re bothering or interrupting them if you ask where something is. This goes equally for call center orders and inquiries. You sometimes feel you are talking to a recorded message when it’s really a live person.

Would you do business with your local electric company or phone company if they weren’t a monopoly? What type of service do you get or how long do you wait when trying to follow-up on a catalog order? Can you ever get the same person again when you call back or do you have to start all over again? What if you forgot your order number, are you just out-of-luck? What if your order arrives incomplete or damaged? You know it’s going to be an annoying and time-consuming experience to correct it.

These are all places where you can provide better customer service and customer care. Make it easy to do business with your company and encourage your employees to give that little extra that makes a big difference. Keeping a smile on their face and in their voice makes the customer experience a more pleasant shopping experience.


Barry Thomsen is publisher and editor of Small Business Idea-Letter.