Hey there, fellow small-business owner. Today we are going to take about 100 steps back and try to remember what it was like on the other side of the line: the customer.
This is not an easy task as we look at our services and products, as we often lose sight of the forest for the trees. I have found it helpful to execute this exercise by evaluating what I look for when I am shopping for a service or product that has zero degrees in common with what I offer.
Why do this? These things can and do inform the core values of your own business, even if you have not yet articulated them as part of your ethos. They also can be the root source of why certain employees’ performances drive you nuts, or make you consider bringing them on as a partner someday.
What I am about to share with you are some of my personal values around customer service. Mine don’t have to be yours, but you need to know yours. I hope this list helps you make your own.
As a wife, a mom to two little boys, an owner of two businesses, a volunteer board member and active community member, I look for certain things as hallmarks of a solid professional whom I want to give my money and my time.
If you want to be the type of small-business owner who attracts customers like me, read on.
Honor my time
I know, that sounds diva-like with a side of pretension. Let me break it down for you. I am busy. I have multiple people I am accountable to in the day, and places I absolutely have to be, on time. Schools really do not like it if you are late getting your kids, and mine even charges me if I am outside of a 10-minute grace window. And I, too, have clients whom I am committed to showing up on time for.
So, tip No. 1, be on time! When I walk through the door, be ready to start. Or if I am waiting for you to show up to my house, be there when you said you would. Also, unless it absolutely cannot be avoided, please do not make me reschedule my appointment.
Do what you say
As a fellow small-business owner, I know that solid customer service is everything. No matter what service we offer, we share this truth. You know what else we share? A general reputation for not doing what we say we are going to do, when we said we would do it.
If you tell me you are going to email me, text me or invoice me, please follow through and get it done when you said you would. In order to live life at the pace I choose to, I have to plan (see above).
As a consumer, I am exposed to models that are showing me things I should be looking for when I work with you. Fair or not, you will be compared to Amazon. You can’t beat Amazon for options, but you better beat match them or beat them on ease of return and completely blow them out of the water on personalized service and interaction.
And while I am not asking you to give up or change the culture and quirkiness that makes your small business unique and wonderful, I am expecting you to be professional. You don’t like surprises, and neither do I. Paperwork should be in order, and communication from all of your employees should be consistent and reliable.
Give back to your community
Become involved with something bigger than yourself. People notice this. This matters, a lot. Does your company support other local businesses? How about nonprofits? Are you sponsoring and showing up at local events? Allowing time for yourself and your employees to be involved in service organizations like Rotary? You certainly can’t do it all, but I would like to see an effort to do something.
Getting it all in a list like that ... boy, do I sound like a lot of work. It is so important to remember that my customers come to the table with just as many if not more expectations. My own biases also impact my values and expectations of my team. It is my job as a leader to be crystal clear about both and get my team ready to deliver.
Next staff meeting, set aside 10 minutes and have your whole team do this exercise individually, then report back. I guarantee some revelations and process changes for your own service delivery will follow.
Get after it, friends. Manage like a leader.