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Small Business Success Index 4

Index Score*   Grade
73 marginal
Capital Access 67
Marketing & Innovation 65
Workforce 76
Customer Service 88
Computer Technology 73
Compliance 92
*Index score is calculated on a 1-100 scale.
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Posts Tagged ‘Customer Service’


From the GrowSmartBiz Conference: Customer Service as a Differentiator for Small Businesses

November 12th, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

‘There is a general cultural of bad customer service in this country.”

Barry Moltz began his presentation, Customer Service Is the New Marketing, at the GrowSmartBusiness Conference on November 5 with the above statement.  As a prolific author and sought-after speaker on entrepreneurship (he has started three companies and founded an angel investing fund), Barry focused on the incredibly important role customer service now plays in a company’s growth and success.  (His engaging and entertaining presentation was based on his newest book, BAM! Delivering Customer Service in a Self-Service World.)

As he alluded to in his presentation, small business owners have a competitive advantage over large companies because we consistently deliver exceptional customer service to our clients.  I can only name three large companies that have built their cultures around customer service: Apple, Zappos, and Nordstrom.  (Maybe this is a trick question, but are there any others you can add to the list?)

Following are excerpts from Barry’s presentation, per my furiously scribbled notes:

“In a world with no boundaries, the only sustainable competitive advantage is excellent customer service.

‘There are a lot of myths associated with customer service.  These myths have to be busted, because the customer is not always right.  Under-promising and over-delivering is not a customer service strategy.  Unhappy customers are not part of doing business.  Customers do not only care about low price….

“Good customer service is whatever a customer says it is in a particular instant on a particular day.  Instead of asking, ‘How can I help you?’, ask ‘How can I make your day better?’

“To ensure your customer service is as good as it can be, put together a customer service manifesto to clearly explain what your customers can expect from you. It should include the following:

  • Deliver on what you promise
  • Listen to your customers
  • When things go wrong, be reachable
  • Resolve issues in a reasonable amount of time
  • Admit mistakes
  • Empower employees to resolve issues
  • Make it easy to stop doing business with you (in direct contrast to cell phone and cable companies, as Barry pointed out)
  • Don’t charge nuisance fees or surcharges
  • Treat your customers with respect and dignity
  • Don’t change the rules without prior notification (cough—credit card companies—cough)

“To get useful feedback from your customers, ask the following four questions:

  1. Why did you choose to do business with us?
  2. Did anyone do a good or bad job servicing you?
  3. Do you plan to use us in the future?
  4. Can you tell any friends, colleagues, or business partners about our business?”

Tweetchat on “The State of U.S. Small Business” Wednesday, Sept 15th, from 1-2:30 pm EST

September 9th, 2010 :: Steven Fisher

Are you a small business owner feeling burned out and struggling to find new ideas to grow your business? Come join us for a Network Solutions hosted tweet chat (#NetSol) to understand the current state of the U.S. Small Business, key challenges facing them in terms of marketing and innovation, access to capital and, more importantly, leave with some simple tips on how to overcome those challenges.

Steve King

Our guest tweeter, Steve King, eminent small business researcher and President of Emergent Research, a small business consulting company will unveil the top ten findings from the recent Network Solutions’ Small Business Success Index, Wave-4 and offer some simple steps to overcome roadblocks that stop you from being innovative. Join us for the Network Solutions tweet chat to understand:

  • The current status of U.S. Small Business across six key dimensions (capital access, marketing & innovation, workforce, customer service, computer technology and compliance).
  • Top ten findings from Network Solutions’ Small Business Success Index that affect your future growth.
  • What technology investments are deemed a priority for small businesses in the next two years?
  • How social media usage among small businesses has changed in the last year?
  • How to continue to be the innovation engine despite the current economic conditions?

Event Details:

When: Wednesday September 15th 1-2:30pm EST

Where: http://tweetchat.com/room/netsol

Register:  http://netsol.eventbrite.com/

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Dare to Be Different

June 16th, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

I recently saw an eye-opening slide during a webinar on marketing.  Around 40 photos of smiling, laughing, and generally happy children, adults, and families were arranged in a grid pattern.  The next slide showed the names of the companies who used those images in their advertising.  I was naively thinking those images belonged to car companies, Disney, theme parks, hotels, tourism offices, and the like.  Nope, most were associated with huge multinational companies that you would never associate with laughing, let alone children.

With so much advertising, messages, and branding competing for our attention, why are companies so afraid of being different?

Check out websites for banks.  They all look the same, totally cluttered with much too much information on checking, savings, and money market accounts.

Ask a friend to blindfold you and walk you into the lobby of a big hotel chain.  Take off the blindfold.  Any idea which hotel you’re now standing in?

Visit the local mall next time you’re traveling.  Ten bucks it looks almost exactly like the one back home, even if you’re in a totally different part of the country.

These situations can be applied to most industries, from airlines to grocery stores to jewelers.  There are exceptions, of course, and not off-the-wall, only-in-big-cities exceptions.  You’ve got:

  • Jet Blue with their great snacks, cheerful employees, and satellite TV.  We haven’t flown them in a couple of years, but both of my young children remember Jet Blue.
  • Whole Foods with their commitment to local, organic, and sustainable foods, excellent customer service, and décor that is not inspired by a prison.
  • Tiffany & Co, with their employees who are discreet, elegant, and gracious.  Even as a young twenty-something, I was treated like a queen when browsing.
  • Houston’s Galleria mall, with an indoor, year-round ice skating rink and plethora of upscale shops.  Awesome people watching, too.
  • Kimpton Hotels with their funky décor, complimentary happy hours, and intimacy a 500 room hotel could never match.
  • ING Bank with its scrolling, interactive navigation bar that pulls you in and dares to make banking exciting.

Take a look at what your competitors are doing and figure out how you can distinguish yourself from them.  You don’t have to do anything weird, just do something different: a light-hearted blog, contests, offers exclusively via Twitter, scrolling photos on your website, video testimonials from customers, bold colors and graphics, marketing that shuns all hackneyed business terms.

It’s not that hard, but so few companies are willing to go that extra mile.  They all end up as paint-by-numbers, cookie cutter companies, and the customer is left choosing the lesser of the evils, the one that’s more convenient, the one that’s cheapest.  Is that any way to win customers, inspire loyalty, or generate leads?

Shopping for a Bank, Part I: The Small Community Bank

March 8th, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

I am not a numbers person.  I hated math class while I was in school, starting in kindergarten and going right through college.  During my two required statistics courses in college, I felt like I was dying a slow death.  In fact, I remember falling asleep during one class, and I was not the only one to do so.  I still only understand the most basic concepts of finance, banking, investing, accounting, etc., because honestly, these subjects bore me to death (if they’re not putting me to sleep).  My husband handles the family finances, allowing me to live in a state of blissful ignorance.  Our financial advisor keeps us on track and explains complex (to me) terms and instruments.  Basically, everyone else does the work for me in my personal financial life.

Stacks of British coins

From celebster on Flickr

But now my business is nearly a year old, and I have yet to shop for a bank. Since the Grow Smart Business theme is small business finance during March, I decided to use my bank shopping experience as blog post fodder.   I will be looking at a small community bank, a regional bank, and a huge national bank to figure out who would be most convenient, easiest, and most fun to do business with.

First up: the small community bank.     

Access National Bank is the definition of a small community bank.  It has 5 branches in northern Virginia, and the main branch is conveniently located across the street from my neighborhood.  During its ten years of business, it has been a standout in the local banking industry: it was profitable within 6 months (one year is the norm), and in fact its first two quarters were the only non-profitable ones on record.  CEO Mike Clarke did not establish the bank with the goal of growing it and selling it.  He has kept the bank focused on its core competencies and shied away from subprime mortgages and the residential and commercial real estate markets, the latter of which is now also imploding.  During the first quarter of 2009, one of the worst on record for local banks, Access National posted a $2.9 million profit.  Obviously, this is a solid bank with two feet firmly planted on the ground.  Awesome, and reassuring.

I recently had a meeting with Diane Holland, Assistant Vice President of Client Services, and Cynthia Caldwell, Senior Vice President of Client Services.  It took all of five minutes to walk over—how often can you do that in the suburbs?—a fact that already gave them a leg up on the competition.  I asked them to run down the list of what makes them unique.  Here’s what they said: 

  1. Access National focuses on the business sector.  Their clients are small to mid-sized businesses with up to $100 million in annual revenue.
  2. Each month, clients receive a $20 rebate for ATM fees to make up for the fact that they do not have ATM machines on every corner.
  3. A pioneer in online banking (they embraced it up on their founding in 1999), Access National still stands out for offering real-time online banking.  Transactions are posted immediately, not 24 hours later.
  4. There are no 800 numbers at Access National.  If you need to reach someone, you have a phone number for a real person, and your needs are usually handled by that same person.  Cynthia said she has almost no turnover in her client services division.  Amazing!
  5. Access National offers networking events for their clients, and because they actually know all of their clients, they also act as a source of referrals.
  6. Access National is the #1 commercial bank by lending volume in the entire Washington metropolitan area.  They are also a preferred partner for SBA loans.
  7. Though they are small, Access National offers all of the products and services that large banks offer: investing, life and health insurance, payroll, etc. 

By the time I walked home, I was impressed.  First of all, how often does the Senior VP of Client Services meet with a potential client?  It was obvious to me that if I chose them as my bank, I would receive highly personal service, and I cannot stress enough that being able to walk over to the bank is the ultimate in convenience.  However, the fact that they foster a sense of community through their networking events is the real kicker.  I have never heard of a bank that does so.

Next up: the regional bank.

I Love You, You Love Me: Customer Service Gets High Marks from SBSI

March 1st, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

In case you missed my last blog post, Marketing, the Small Business Success Index, and You, I wrote about the C- score that marketing and innovation earned in the Small Business Success Index survey that was conducted by Network Solutions and the Center for Excellence in Service at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. The index was released on February 16 and is designed to track the competitive health of the small business sector over time.  Scores in 6 categories are graded; customer service, something that is near and dear (or should be) to marketing folks, scored an A-.

The major strength of small business is in customer service, with the great majority of businesses reporting success in all six areas that comprise this component of the SBSI. 

In all honesty, this did not surprise me at all.  High-quality customer service is a differentiator that small business owners embrace.  In this age of faceless technology, we all crave a personal transaction.   Automated phone menus, customer service departments on the other side of the world staffed by people who are not empowered to make decisions, and multi-national corporations that don’t even post a customer service phone number on their website create nothing but negative feelings and poor experiences.  And we all know how eager people are to share a bad customer service experience.

From Captain Camera on FlickrCase in point: I decided to save a little money, bypass Sephora, and buy mascara at CVS.  I saw an ad for L’Oreal’s Extra Volume Collagen Mascara in InStyle Magazine.  Just the thing my skimpy little lashes need, I thought.  The mascara was flaky and clumpy, and it looked terrible.  Since I couldn’t find the CVS receipt, I decided to contact L’Oreal’s customer service department via email to see if I could get a voucher or coupon. L’Oreal is a massive company; they own 21 other skincare, cosmetics, fragrance, and hair care brands.  Long story short, you can’t email them, but you can waste your time in a chat session with an Online Beauty Advisor.  Turns out you are not chatting with a person, you are chatting with a computer.  The computer could not understand what I was telling it, so I gave up.  I have zero patience with adults, less with technology, and I hate wasting time.  Now I shop for mascara—and all other cosmetics—exclusively at Sephora.

Around nine out of ten small businesses are highly successful at answering customer questions, ensuring customer satisfaction, showing empathy, providing consistent service, resolving problems and winning repeat business. 

And that quote perfectly illustrates what makes us small businesses so special:

Successful at answering customer questions: Because many of us are the business, we know all of our clients personally, and we certainly know our products and/or services intimately. 

Ensuring customer satisfaction: We work hard to make our clients are happy, whether it’s quick turnaround on a project, special pricing based on their loyalty, or a gift card to a favorite shop or café just to say thanks, you are valuable to me.

Showing empathy:  We’re not robots, computers, or customer service reps who don’t give a damn.  We care, and we show it.

Providing consistent service:  When you go out to eat, you never know what kind of server you might get stuck with: a veteran or a newbie.  Our clients know what to expect from us.    

Resolving problems: If there’s a problem in the middle of a project, our clients can reach us directly by phone, text, or email.  We can immediately start working on resolving the issue.   

Winning repeat service: It’s a lot of work to look for new vendors or partners.  If we do a good job the first time, our clients will come back and recommend us.

It’s Customer Experience…Not Just Customer Service

October 1st, 2009 :: Michael Dougherty

My posts here generally circle around marketing, design, and social media, but today I am going to go off the beaten path. I am going to talk about something that creates its own marketing whether you plan for it or not. That, my dear readers, is customer service. There is an old marketing rule that I am fond of that relates perfectly to customer service as a marketing to help you understand what I mean. I am going to paraphrase, but “give one person a good experience and they will tell one person, but give one person a bad experience and they will tell ten people.”

My wife will tell you, if you ever get the chance to meet her, that I am a stickler for customer service. It might embarrass her when I’m more than vocal about it when it’s bad, but it is a major pet peeve of mine.

Customer service has been severely abused and taken for granted. It’s been seen from everything as yet another opportunity for a sale to the last reason anyone in the company should pick up the phone. I’ve sat in more than enough consulting meetings where they are worried about customer retention or new customer acquisition, but at no point is customer service ever brought up. It’s as if the reaction to customer service, for some companies, is “Give them a link to the FAQ and if that doesn’t work…let them send an email.” If you’re wondering, I heard that in a meeting that I eventually walked out of when it was obvious the client did not get it.

To be fair, and honest, I have been guilty of it. Looking back, it is a driving force now as to why I’m crystal clear about details of an agreement. It’s also the reason I get so frustrated when I see other companies do it. I want to jump over the counter and scream “Do you know how much money, and reputation, you are costing your company by giving me bad service? Trust me…I know!”

Customer service is one of the interactions with a client/customer that could sway a negative customer to a loyal one or kill any future interactions your company may have with them …and it’s swept aside in planning meetings for “more profitable solutions”.

Think about this, you plan for how to guide a prospective, or current, client/customer to your website, take an action, or make a call, through marketing pieces. You plan on what your messaging will be to gain their attention. You plan on how to make sure every dollar you spend has a great return on the investment. You plan for all the bells and whistles, but do you plan on how to service your customers beyond that step?

I hear the cries now…but Mike, how can we plan for this?

It’s simple, really. Do you plan on what your sales people or receptionist will say if they get a call? Or how many steps a customer will have to go through when trying to address an issue? Do your people know the right person to send customers to?

Decide, here and now, that the people who have invested their time and money into your company/product are just as valuable now as they were when they first gave you their business. Once you make that decision, make sure each person on your team feels the same way, because one weak link in the armor could cause the whole image of your company to be seen negatively by your potential/current customer.

In my previous post “Just take the black eye with a smile”, here on GrowSmartBusiness, I talked about what you can do when you get negative reactions to your business in social media, but good customer service will help those black eyes be fewer and fewer. Customer service isn’t the silver bullet solution, but more like an extra effort to help your marketing strategies be bullet proof.

I would love to hear your customer service experiences, good and bad, here in the comments. You never know, you could be helping someone else see ideas that they could improve or adopt.

You can always reach me on Twitter by sending a message to @wickedjava, or on Facebook at facebook.com/mcdougherty.

As always, thank you for reading, dear reader, and stay wicked.

Social Media: 10 Tips on Jumping In Feet-First Without Drowning

August 11th, 2009 :: Michelle Riggen-Ransom

This post comes from one of our Grow Smart Business Expert Network members Michelle Riggen Ransom. She is Communications Director of BatchBlue Software.

There are a lot of resources out there explaining how to use social media for small businesses. Heck, we’ve even published an in-depth paper about it! But sometimes it’s nice to hear directly from someone who’s out there trying all this stuff to see what’s really worked for them.

How we do it

BatchBlue Software is a small company that makes BatchBook, a social CRM software for small businesses. Because we’re a growing company, we don’t have much of an advertising or marketing budget. Social media’s appeal for us has been that it is inexpensive (usually free except for time) and allows you to grow your network quickly. And once you get the hang of it, it’s actually pretty fun.

We’ve been in business for about three years and have enjoyed some great press, made some amazing connections and grown our business primarily by using social media.

Here’s what’s worked for us in helping our business get started with social media:

  1. Start a Twitter account. You’ll hear this from anyone and everyone talking about social media. That’s because it really is the best tool of them all for connecting with people, finding new contacts, even providing customer service. There are many, many posts out there about how to get started with Twitter for business. Here are just a few.
  2. Listen. Familiarize yourself with the main social media channels out there such as Facebook and LinkedIn. Ask your customers which ones they are using on a regular basis. For more options, check out BatchBlue’s Blue Paper or Mashable, a blog focused on Web 2.0 and social media news. Create accounts in a couple of social networks and just observe how people are interacting. You’ll learn a lot this way.
  3. See what your competitors are doing. Go to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and have a look at your competitors are doing in these spaces. If they’re not there, think about if it makes sense for you to be there (is the network you want to reach in that particular space? Maybe not.) If they are not there yet, this could be a tremendous opportunity for you and your business to be the first ones in your industry using some of these tools.
  4. Be nice. The real fun begins once you start participating. Social media is very much about helping others succeed, not just going after your own personal success. Karma goes a very long way online – if you help someone in some way (by providing a resource, a link, an answer to a question), they’ll both remember you and view you as an asset to their network.
  5. Share. Whatever your industry, you have knowledge that other people don’t. Run a fireplace supply store? Blog about when people should get their chimneys swept. Own a pet grooming business? Tweet some quick tips about clipping kitty nails (hint: there’s a lot of pet lovers on Twitter!). Social media is about communication: the more you share what you know, the more you’ll get interest in your company and the product or service you are providing.
  6. ABC (Always Be Communicating) The sales industry has the term “Always Be Closing.” Well, you should be doing that, too, but with regard to social media, the more information you put out there, the better (as long as it is relevant, interesting and not spammy!) At BatchBlue, we use our blog to talk about what’s going on behind the scenes with BatchBook, we use our Twitter account to communicate if our site has any downtime and talk about upcoming events, we share photos of staff events and conferences using Flickr. People want to do business with companies they feel they know; it was true 100 years ago and it is true today even though the rules and the tools have changed. Be open and honest about who you are as a company and that will earn you customer loyalty that no advertising dollar will ever buy.
  7. Don’t be creepy. There are a lot of great ways to use social media, but there are a lot of inappropriate ways as well. We call these people “Sleestacks”; folks who use social media to spam people, spy on people or in other nefarious ways. I wrote a post about Sleestacks here; read it so you know what to watch out for and how not to become one.
  8. Try new things. Something that has been very successful for us is starting the SBBuzz Twitter chat, where we host a weekly, two-hour chat session on Twitter for small business folks looking to connect with others. Our company president Pamela O’Hara and I started this just about a year ago at the Small Business Technology Conference in New York City and we now have over 9,000 followers on the sbbuzz Twitter account. We had never done this before, and, in fact, we’re still learning the technology ourselves, but we saw a need for this type of discussion and we’re excited to jump in and try and fill it. If new for you is simply joining Twitter or opening a YouTube account and putting up some product demos, try that. As I always tell my mom (who’s a small business owner herself) “You can’t break the Internet just by trying something out!”
  9. Manage your time. This is one I’m, admittedly, still learning. Social media can be very addictive and thus very time-consuming. The always helpful Chris Brogan, president of New Marketing Labs and a prolific writer on the topic of social media, recently wrote a great piece as part of a recent newsletter about how he manages his daily workflow when much of it involves being active various social media channels. I’m working on adopting some of his strategies to make my work day more efficient and productive.
  10. Go to social media-related events. You’ll find that you start making real connections with certain people online due to shared interests, sense of humor, etc. If you have a chance to meet with folks “IRL” (in real life!) at conferences or meet-ups, definitely do so; it will strengthen these connections and turn virtual friends into real ones. Eventbrite is a good place to find events that you may be interested in attending. You can search by industry, topic or location or even create an event of your own.

I hope you find these tips helpful. BatchBlue will be blogging here on the topics of social media for small business and managing your contact network on a regular basis, so please let me know in the comments if there are specific things you’d like to read more about. Thanks for reading!

ABOUT THIS GROW SMART BUSINESS CONTRIBUTOR:

As overseer of all things editorial and champion of the overall user experience, Michelle works as Communications Director for BatchBlue Software and ensures that the products meet BatchBlue customers’ needs. Prior to joining BatchBlue Software, her work as a consultant for web communications helped clients connect to their employees and customers using innovative technologies such as virtual user groups, intranets, and rich media.

Michelle honed her on-line customer advocacy skills at Amazon.com, where she worked as a project manager in the Customer Service department. After four years at Amazon, she joined Washington Mutual’s Corporate Communications department developing and managing web-based communications projects.

Michelle holds a Master’s degree in creative writing from the University of Washington and a degree in communications from Boston University. Originally from Cape Cod, she enjoys exploring the beach with her four-year old son and collecting children’s book illustrations. Descended from a long line of birders, she’s destined to become a crazy bird lady. For now, she’s named her new daughter after a songbird that heralds the arrival of spring.

How to Enable Stellar Customer Service for Your Business

March 23rd, 2009 :: Steven Fisher

Dr. P.K. Kannan is the Director for Center for Excellence in Service and an Associate Professor at the Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, College Park. His work at the Center revolves around service strategy as it applies to businesses.

Here is the overview from the Center’s web site:

The Center for Excellence in Service (CES) is a nonprofit organization composed of individuals dedicated to service strategy and research. CES combines its unique perspective of customer point-of-view and an exploration of a variety of services (with a focus on information technology) in order to provide business leaders and academics with the latest knowledge in service research. CES also implements practical business objectives into its academic research, and this dynamic creates a partnership between the business world and academia.

Founded in 2000 and led by Director P.K. Kannan and Executive Director Roland Rust, CES aspires to become the world’s leading research center in service. CES accomplishes this mission through conferences, journals and publications of research, and its relationships to its Center Members. Highlights of CES’s success include the Frontiers in Service Conference, the Journal of Service Research (indexed by the Social Science Citation Index), the National Technology Readiness Survey , and research conducted through the Netcentric Behavioral Lab.

Recently, P.K. shared some sage advice on how small businesses can use stellar customer service to grow their business in the economic downturn. Below is the full interview: