The small business is regularly put forward as the place where excellent customer service can be delivered. Small, agile, nimble and close to the customer; so unlike the big giant monoliths with their layers of management and out-of-touch head offices.

Recently, I posted the following question right across the social media:
“A bit of help please re customer service… Everyone claims excellent customer service improves the bottom line… So where’s the proof?”

I had an enormous response. Over 500 replies.

They were in four camps. The conversation was rather similar to the intellectual debate about the existence of God!

  • The relationship is so obvious that you shouldn’t have to ask the question
  • Obviously there is a relationship, we just don’t have the proof yet
  • There is enough proof (but I have to say that they look like correlations rather than cause-and-effect)
  • We cannot find any scientific, rigorous, definitive proof of a cause-and-effect relationship between profitability and excellent customer service.

My point is simply that most people believe that excellent customer service is a good thing and that it should directly benefit the bottom line. The argument is a little weak and runs along the lines of:

“excellent customer service creates happy customers…, makes them more likely to be loyal and more likely to return and buy again and hence create a more profitable company…”

Few people actually quote hard evidence to demonstrate the relationship and yet there is evidence that exists.

For independent and growing businesses, the plethora of new books on the bookshop shelves adds to the confusion. Many business owners just deliver excellence because they are obsessed with their product or service and simply want to do the best for their customers. It is not some latest initiative delivered from head office. It is just how things are done.

Anyone who runs their own business knows that ‘customers’ is the focus of an organisation’s work. End of. This is not some rarified atmosphere we are talking about. Honestly, it is not a place where you have to run a customer focus group to find out what the customers really think. If you want to know what a customer thinks, then walk up to them and ask them!

Word-of-mouth marketing (based on customer experience) has become more important than the advertisements. And this is the smaller businesses’ great advantage. This is where the monoliths struggle to compete.

What customers and clients want from their suppliers (and from each other) still seems to be the old-fashioned stuff: courtesy, honesty, integrity, and reliability. Think about your most recent purchases, business-to-business or business-to-consumer. The decision to buy is made on non-rational criteria… reputation counts for more and more.

As Yankelowich says, 76% of consumers do not believe that companies tell the truth in advertisements. However, 78% of consumers believe the recommendation of a friend.

It could be argued that nothing has really changed in the small business environment. I often seem to be writing about the same subjects: don’t compete on price; lots of companies talk up customer relationships; however, in reality, they are still obsessed with profit first; there is still not enough serious engagement with customers. Meanwhile, new technology has meant that it is easier and cheaper than ever before to get close to the customer.

I firmly believe that delivering legendary customer service is fundamental to running a successful modern business. How difficult can that be to do? Meanwhile, it is rare for the basics to be delivered. You just need to be 5% better than your competition and you will stand out with stellar brightness while the others mither and mope around amidst their own mediocrity. Surely it is blindingly obvious that you must understand what your customer is thinking and feeling about you…? It is clearly not the case.

So, finally, is the customer experience really the next competitive battleground? YES! 100%. Is this the case for smaller businesses? Absolutely.

Would you want to buy from someone who delivers average, run-of-the-mill, mediocre service? I think not. So, why would you want to deliver an average, run-of-the-mill, mediocre service?

Robert CravenRobert Craven is a keynote speaker and the author of business best-seller ‘Customer Is King’ (foreword by Sir Richard Branson). His latest book is “Grow Your Service Firm”
He also runs The Directors’ Centre, helping growing businesses to grow.
For further information, contact Robert Craven on 01225 851044

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