I want you to think about the last time you patronized a small business. Maybe you bought a cup of coffee at the corner coffee shop. Perhaps you used a local moving company, or went food shopping at your favorite food co-op. Now, I want you to think about it: why did you choose the little guy over the corporate giant?
As consumers, we have a choice (not to mention an overwhelming amount of options) where we spend our hard-earned money. Chains, like Whole Foods, have made shopping easier than ever and online retailers, like Amazon, have made just about anything, a click away. For small business owners, this has made doing business (and staying in business) even more challenging than it used to be.
Don’t be discouraged. I have good news! Regardless of the type of small business you operate, you have one leg up on the big dogs that they’ll never be able to compete with: YOU. Think about it: the experience you create for your customer is entirely in your hands. It is ultimately the deciding factor why someone chooses to do business with you over a larger, and often times, less expensive company.
Now, let’s go back to your favorite corner coffee shop and think about your experience. Did your local barista remember your name and drink order? Did they say thank you with a smile? How about the local moving company. Did they provide you with a quote when they said they would? Did they call you to update you on the delivery time?
Do you see where I’m going? The experience these small businesses have created for you is centered around the level and quality of communication they provided. As small business owners, we may not be able to compete with a larger company’s marketing dollars or supply chain, but strong communication will always make the difference between us and them. At my firm, we have a 95% referral/repeat-client rate. I am positive we have a high referral rate because of the way we communicate with our clients.
Begin to find ways to strengthen your communication skills and you will see instant results. No matter how busy or stressed my day turns out to be, I always implement these four best practices:
Respond in a timely fashion:
I can’t say this enough. Respond to every email, voicemail, and message in a timely and professional fashion. Even if sometimes you only say, I’m busy today but I will get back to you on Friday. Here’s the most important part, keep that promise no matter what. It’s an easy way to establish trust.
Tip: Carve time out at the beginning and end of every day to make sure every customer message is addressed.
Keep every promise:
As a business owner, I make sure I keep my promises. If I say we’re going to send reports on Friday, they will be sent on Friday. If I say I will call back, I always call back. Be on time and keep your appointments, because an appointment to meet or talk is also a promise. Make sure deliverables and deadlines are a priority for everyone on your team.
Tip: Shared calendar invites are a great way to make ensure everyone is synced. I also use a program called Trello to manage projects and keep track of every promise.
Offer an explanation:
Unfortunately, life happens and sometimes we miss deliverables and deadlines. When that happens don’t go radio silent. If something is going to be late, explain why. Offer an apology. If you had to do something different than what was expected, don’t be afraid to explain your rationale. If you are a moving company and there is a delay in the truck’s arrival, call your customer and tell them. It’s simple and easy, but you will earn goodwill and probably a referral.
Tip: Don’t be reactive. Always stay ahead of communication. Send explanations before the client or customer contacts you. Better communication will reduce conflict, build trust, and earn you a referral or repeat business.
Just like your neighborhood barista, don’t forget to smile. Strong communication can be as simple as a thank you. For regular clients, consider establishing a rewards program to reward loyalty. Create a system to recognize birthday–even a quick wish on Facebook will help. A little will go a long way. One simple way to make people feel special is to treat each customer as if they are your only customer.
Tip: Create a database where you keep customer information so you can always create a customized experience for your clients.
As small business owners, I know how easy it is to get caught up in the day-to-day of running our businesses. I hope you see that these easy to implement communication tips are an important piece of the small business puzzle and if you will implement them you will indeed win and keep your customers.
About the Author:
Fauzia Burke is the founder and president of FSB Associates, an online publicity and marketing firm specializing in creating awareness for books and authors. She’s also the author of Online Marketing for Busy Authors (Berrett-Koehler Publishers) and Co-Founder of Pub Site a platform for building author websites. Fauzia started her career at Wiley and Henry Holt before starting FSB and has promoted the books of authors such as Alan Alda, Arianna Huffington, Deepak Chopra, Melissa Francis, S. C. Gwynne, Mika Brzezinski, Charles Spencer and more. For more information please visit: www.FauziaBurke.com and follow her on Twitter @FauziaBurke.