There are a variety of factors evaluated during the consumer decision-making process. According to Deborah Sweeney with MyCorporation, “There are lots of reasons a customer could choose your business, but we found it often boiled down to three main options: customer service, competitive pricing, or the product/service itself. Of the entrepreneurs we asked, 50% think their customers choose their business due to their customer service. Product comes in second at 43%, and price was dead last at 6%.” (MyCorporation, September 2015). I agree with the results of the survey, as customer service is extremely important for small business. I believe that if you provide exceptional customer service, you have a competitive advantage, even if your competition has a slightly superior product or service. When consumers visit small businesses vs. large corporations, they are looking for a more personalized and memorable customer experience.
To deliver exceptional customer service, consistency is key! Once you have completely amazed your customer, deliver this exact experience every, single time. According to Ross Beard with Client Heartbeat, “A customer might be blown head over heels by one of your team members – exceeding their expectations. The next minute, they might be given adequate service. Although the customer was happy with the adequate service, since the experience wasn’t the same as the first one, they could be left feeling unsatisfied” (Client Heartbeat, March 2014). Customer service is a process that should involve clear procedures, employee training, and management. Effective processes provide the consistency that is required. “Investment in staff is vital, but to be able to offer the best in customer service, you must also invest in the best equipment and systems. If you don’t, then you’re asking your staff to keep customers satisfied with one hand tied behind their backs” (Gritt, November 2012).
How do you greet a customer that walks in the door? Do you offer them a beverage? Do you offer anything special for first-time guests? Each employee should be thoroughly trained on the process. How about personalization? How much do you know about your customers? Do you know their family information? Personal preferences? These are all important details that can be effectively managed by clear processes/procedures and a CRM system. Take the time to learn about your customers and when possible, build personal profiles. Train your employees to use this information to make each customer visit special. Whether it’s greeting the customer by name, remembering their favorite beverage, or suggesting new inventory items based on their individual preferences, these small gestures will quickly add up and build customer loyalty. “Finding the right systems for your business is vital. If you don’t have the skills internally, consider outsourcing or recruiting an expert. You’ll need to spend time working out exactly what you need for technology to support every aspect of your business and then develop a system that’s customized to your needs” (Gritt, November 2012).
It is important to remember that outstanding customer service is an effective marketing tool. Your customers will share their experience with friends and family (for better or worse) and if left feeling appreciated, they will encourage their networks to visit your establishment. According to Nielsen, “84% of consumers say they either completely or somewhat trust recommendations from family, colleagues, and friends about products and services – making these recommendations the highest ranked source for trustworthiness” (Nielsen, September 2013). The hardest part of growing a business is getting customers in the door. With remarkable customer service, your current customers will use their influence to do the hard work for you. This leaves you with time to focus on fine-tuning your procedures, so that you can really “wow” new customers when given the opportunity. As they say, you never get a second chance to make a first impression.