It’s the beginning of a New Year, and new opportunities for small businesses abound… or so I would have thought.
Only one week into 2013, I have found myself unimpressed by, and amazed at the lack of basic customer service that I have encountered when trying to buy services from several small businesses.
To be honest, this experience is not new to this year. I have found in the last six months that, despite the fact that providing excellent customer service is the foundation for business growth, many small business owners are caring less and less about providing for their customers’ needs.
There has never been a time in recent history when we have seen such a boom in new business growth:
- 543,000 new companies are started in the U.S. every month; (according to Forbes Magazine)
- The 50 and over age group is the fastest growing segment of new business owners, accounting for nearly 30 per cent of start-ups in Canada;
- The self-employed in Canada are more educated – a third have a university degree;
- 70 per cent of new businesses in Canada are started by men but women tend to be more successful;
- Businesses focussed on educational services (up almost 65 per cent since 2007) and health care are (up almost 20 per cent) are growing fastest in Canada;
Although this is very exciting news, from a marketing perspective, it also means that there is increased competition among small businesses. More than ever, businesses need to not only differentiate themselves, but also to provide excellent customer service, to present themselves in a professional manner, and to be accountable for their actions, in order to attract and generate long-term growth.
Considering the number of hard-working small business owners that I know, who are truly devoted to serving their customers, as well as being aware of the statistics which I have shared with you above, I’m always shocked when I come across SMB’s who appear to want business, but then don’t respond professionally when a new customer (me, that is) comes knocking.
My process for finding a new service might sound familiar: I ask colleagues, consultants and friends for referrals for the service I seek. Then, I narrow down the list to the top 2 or 3, and I look them up online. Once I find the one provider that stands out, I usually contact them either via their site, or with an email. I wait a day or two. If I still hear nothing, I pick up the phone and call them, usually leaving a message (as often, no actual person answers the phone). I wait another couple of days. Sometimes, I may email or call them one last time, and if I then still receive no communication from them, I write them off. In the past week, I have contacted three small businesses, and not one of them has called or emailed me back.
As I said in last week’s blog, I attribute much of my marketing agency’s success to the fact that I value each and every one of my clients. As such, my message to small business owners and entrepreneurs is to make your customers feel that they are important, and that their business matters. Treat them the way you’d like to be treated. If a potential client emails you, calls you, or contacts you in any way, get back to them within 24 hours. If you can’t do this yourself, make sure you have a back-up plan in place, so that you don’t lose their interest.
Bottom line – make sure you let your potential clients know just how important they are.
What customer service practices does your company follow? Do you think asking for a response within 24 hours is too much to ask in this highly competitive world? Let me know in the comments below.