Being responsive easier when firm not a goliath
By Tom Culley
Special to the Star THE TORONTO
STAR Wednesday, September 16, 1998
You're confronted by it every day. At home, at work, at play.
Lousy service, a sickness of today's world.
Sullen, rude, indifferent employees. Companies that answer
you (if at all) with dumb form letters.
Phone calls to businesses that offer only irritating answering
services: Sorry, no humans here.
Restaurants with no concerned owner present to handle your
complaint. Continuing problems that are never resolved.
You'll hear a litany of excuses, explanations and blamecasting,
but there's really only one underlying cause: businesses,
usually the bigger ones, that "rationalize" costs
at the expense of customer service.
They could improve service if they wanted to, but trading
off lower cost against lost customer good will makes economic
sense to them. I don't think it does, but that's their problem.
To you, operating a small, flexible personal business, their
problem is your opportunity. It represents a major competitive
advantage. If you're starting up, it allows you to build a
small but fiercely loyal client base.
This service "edge" of a small business over larger
competitors has never been greater. As big corporations dumb
down, you can smart up.
However, this edge is only yours if you grasp it and exploit
it, intelligently and aggressively. It takes considerable
personal time and effort. It will happen only if you make
You're your best service employee.
You want to succeed, right? You care about your
business more than any employee, right?
So forget those cute management theories about delegation.
Get personally involved in customer service and handling
complaints. You'll do it better.
Small is beautiful.
Your customer base will be small, compared with
large competitors. You can afford to give each customer
a level of personal attention that would be impossible
for a larger business. That's your edge; exploit it.
Play the local card.
Most small businesses operate locally. It's
far easier to stay close to customers who are easily accessible.
You can intelligently exploit people's natural preference
for a local business that offers outstanding service.
Your PC is your service tool.
With an average computer and off-the-shelf software,
you can maintain superb customer information files. Names,
addresses, phones, and all key details. Plus model letters
for every imaginable customer service problem. Managing
customer service activities becomes easy.
Never let good customers slip away.
Always remember: Whatever it may cost you, in
time, effort and money, to provide superior service to
retain good customers, it will cost you much more if you
have to hunt for replacement customers. Hold on tight
to what you've got.
Quality control is your responsibility.
Quality control and good service are part of
the same thing. Consistently successful independent restaurants
always have an owner on the scene, to ensure that everything
is to their customers' satisfaction. Learn from them.
Contact, contact, contact.
People have short memories. You can gently,
constantly remind your customers that you still value
their business, without becoming a pain in the butt. Letters,
flyers, postcards, birthday cards. Whatever it takes.
Good techniques, poor execution.
Just because you see good techniques for customer
service being misused by larger companies (irritating
phone surveys, idiotic follow-up letters), doesn't mean
they're not valuable. In your personal hands, they may
It doesn't have to cost money.
Great customer service by a dedicated small
business operator costs personal time, effort and brain
strain. But the money cost is usually low. The cost comes
out of your hide. That you can (and must) afford. It's
why you're in small business.
Don't get cocky.
When small business owner / operators pay ferocious
attention to customer service, they reap the rewards of
their dedication. Fast. Yet some stumble later. They get
cocky (or lazy) and start neglecting customer service.
If you built your business on good customer service, you
must stick with it. Forever.