Tuesday 12 February 2013

Customer Service and the Small Business

One thing that small businesses should be able to do much better than any large business is customer service.  If you have a small business, it's something that might set you apart.

Why?  Let me illustrate why by giving you a couple of examples of what happened to me this week:

The Small Business:

I phoned a mobile mechanic I've used before to pick up my Dad's car and MOT it.  The car hadn't been driven for around 8 months, wouldn't start and wasn't taxed or insured.  My dad has Alzheimer's and thinks he still drives it every day.  He was upset about the idea of us taking his car off him but accepted it had to go for an MOT.

no, this isn't the actual car (but doesn't it look amazing?)

The mobile mechanic had just had his van stolen so at first said he couldn't do it.  However, he found someone with a pick-up truck and organised collection (and delivery back to my house, so we didn't upset my dad further) - all without fuss.  Fabulous customer service - friendly, helpful, understanding, considerate and prompt.  I can highly recommend him if you want a car mechanic in Warrington.

neither is this one...

The Large Business:

This very same week, my parents' phone stopped working. I spent 8 days trying to communicate with BT about it.  It took 10 days to fix it (including being told 6 times it was fixed when it wasn't) despite it being marked as a priority because of their age.  I have discovered:
  • each call to BT takes about half an hour  - you can have a shower, get dressed and make your breakfast while you are waiting to speak to someone
  • after an engineer has worked on it, they send an automated message to say the phone line "should be OK" now.  "Should"? Is it not someone's job to actually check? It would appear not.
  • When it isn't OK, it takes another half hour of waiting on hold to speak to a human being to report the fault yet again (and again and again...)
  • BT employs contractors on a paid-by-job basis.  I've been told that when the job looks complicated, these contractors sometimes just pass it off as fixed. BT also have their own engineers and you may stumble across one eventually when your luck changes.
not quite old enough to be a phone engineer...

Why am I telling you this?

Because it illustrates the difference between how a very large company responds to customers when solving their problems and how a small one does it so much better.  And quicker!

As a small business, you can respond to customer needs quickly and directly.  As a customer this week, with a problem each time related to my elderly parents, I was dealt with in two very different ways.  The small business stepped up and responded with a personal service, which I was happy to pay extra for.  The large business? It gets worse.  When I said I was worried about leaving my elderly parents without a phone line overnight, I was told quite sharply: "There's nothing to worry about".  Really?!  One has Alzheimer's and sometimes wanders off.  One has had several serious falls.  They have problems using a mobile phone (heck, Dad can't even remember it's a phone, he thinks it's a clock). How would they summon help?  Wouldn't you worry?  

who shall we ring next?

I know everyone has real-life stories like this - which is precisely why excellent customer service really matters to people.

What can you do for your customers to make life easier for them?  Easy online ordering, easy ways to contact you, quick response times, flexible approach, personal responses, extras like gift-wrapping or gift cards, sending direct to the gift recipient ... none of it is difficult for a small business, but sometimes it appears pretty much impossible for the giants.

Go on - go the extra mile.  Shine out from the competition.  It's well worth the extra effort and might just make somebody's day.


Anonymous said...

Sadly your BT story is not a suprise! But what you write is good advice for small businesses. I know how pleased I felt when I ordered from ebay and received my item with a hand written message on a pretty card. I felt more than just an order number and it was nice. :)

Michele said...

Fantastic post, and a scenario we are all very familiar with when dealing with large companies... It is true the small business has many advantages although sometimes we don't see them ourselves!

Gertie said...

I couldn't agree with you more.

I prefer dealing with smaller companies as they actually appreciate your custom. Larger companies are only interesting in one thing £££££....


Cheryl said...

I seem to remember a stat that said we tell 10 people about a bad experience, but only about 4 if we had good service. As customers we have a role too. I try hard to remember to say thank you. Especially when I'm not treated as a number.

Unknown said...

I loathe BT. They tried to make us pay for a bill for a phone line bill in Cambs when we live in Norfolk! No one understand we could use the number when living in a diff house in a diff county. We use Post Office now, who deal with BT if any issues.

Unknown said...

Hi Wendy
I've just re-registered under bathbombcreations@yahoo.co.uk so the one ending in @btinternet.com can be removed. Cheers

Small business said...

Customer Service is one of the single most important aspects of business whether you are in retail, services, online, working at home or working in a supermarket. Customer Service in my opinion is the make or break of any small business. However it can be a fine line in having great customer service, over the top customer service, mediocre customer service or just plain terrible service.

Small business