How Can Small Companies Compete with Larger Players?
Many small-sized companies think it’s difficult to compete against large corporations with their equally large budgets. But, many customers prefer to do business with a smaller organization just for that reason. Size can dictate the ability of a company to create and build relationships with their customers, intimately know and understand their needs and have faster response times. Big corporations can develop that culture but by their very nature find it more difficult.
When I was a teenager my father owned a small men’s retail store and during the busiest holidays of the year, Christmas and Father’s Day, I worked at my dad’s store. My place was behind the cash register. It was a fun, but more importantly provided an education. My dad interacted with every person who came into the store. Two key words: interact and person.
He saw all customers as people first, customers second. Giant malls were just a stones throw away, but that didn’t concern him. Neighborhood businesses automatically think personal and are familiar with their customers. My father knew when kids were graduating from college, if a vacation was coming up, or a family moving out of town. How special to be able to connect in that way.
Whether your business sells to other businesses or to consumers, small companies should focus on their greatest advantage: the capability to be personal. A customer can be satisfied but never do business with your company again. Customer satisfaction is a minimal standard. What is the gap between a satisfied customer and repeat business? Building a personal relationship is the link, especially with a small company. My father didn’t have a grand master plan to retain accounts and increase testimonials. It came naturally.
I founded The Center For Client Retention over 27 years ago. While most of our clients are Fortune 500 companies, we are a boutique firm with under 40 associates. Here are some recommendations we give corporations to personalize their customer encounters. Smaller companies may do many of these things every day, but a large percentage forget that acting personally can be their largest competitive advantage.
- Connect First, Reply Second: Whenever you interact with a customer, first find out how their day is going, comment on the weather or about their favorite sports team. It will fulfill the hope that they are doing business with a company that values them as an individual than just counting their dollars.
- Answer More, Provide Additional Information: Remove one word responses from your vocabulary. When a customer asks a yes or no question, respond by saying typically it might be a yes, but it depends of various situations. Let me explain. I can educate you more about our processes, products or other options you may not have thought of. It’s a great way to build a connection.
- Respond Instantly: When a person leaves a voice mail message or sends your company an email, respond within an hour. Even a response of, “we just got your email. Give us a day to look into it,” will show the customer you are different. The longer it takes to get back to a customer, the less important the customer feels.
- Extend Another Invite: When a customer is ready to leave your office or store, or get off the phone with one of your staff, any associate should leave them with, “it would be great to see or hear from you again, let’s make that happen soon.” The words will demonstrate you care.
- Give New Customers Extra Details: The first time someone calls or emails your company or visits your place of business they need to learn more than a regular customer. Create a checklist of items and communicate. It will help turn a first time customer into a repeat patron. In almost every business, first year attrition rates are twice as high as the overall percentage.
- Don’t Be Penny Wise, Pound Foolish: It takes time to create and build strong customer relationships. If you have associates on your staff whom your customers love, make sure you love them back. When a good employee leaves to go to your competitor for $1 per hour increase, the result is a double-whammy.
I think the most important concept I learned from my dad and from starting a successful consulting firm is welcome your customers into your business just like you would welcome them into your home. Give them that big hello, offer to take their coat, find out about their weekend and ask them when can we get together again. Use your size to your advantage; there is a front door that can welcome customers as your guests. Leverage the personal relationship. It works!
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