In the majority of economies, the number of small business enterprises considerably outnumbers large and multinational corporations. Although many consumers prefer using these small businesses because of the more personal service they offer they can experience certain frustrations, which might make them reconsider and move to a larger more established business. The following is an overview of the issues that are likely to cause most frustration for customers, together with recommendation as to how the impact of these can be minimised.
Contact between a business and its customers, whether by mail, phone, e-mail or using other technology, can often take longer with a small business, especially one run by a sole proprietor. The time constraints imposed by the structure of the business means that phone calls might be redirected to answerphone, messages and requests for information through others sources can take longer to be returned than perhaps the customer might be expecting.
For the customer, when using a small business there is a need to be a little more patient. For the business proprietor, such frustrations can be reduced by automatically transferring landline calls to cell phones when away from the business premises. Additionally, introducing a system for checking and responding to post, e-mails and other online communications at least two or three times a day will reduce customer waiting times.
Time of supply and delivery of product or service
Small businesses do not have the benefit of a dedicated delivery service or a wide range of suppliers who would be keen to deliver small individual items direct to customers within set time perameters. Therefore, where the goods are concerned, delivery times might be longer than is the case with larger organisations.
Although most customers will be prepared to give a little leeway on time in exchange for the personal service of a small business proprietor, the owner should take such this for granted. Where financially possible, using well established delivery organisations that have an online tracking system available, as this provides the customer with the ability to follow the delivery timescale. It is important for the owner/entrepreneur to operate an efficient and effective diary system for their business to ensure that time delays in any aspect of their business can be kept to a minimum. Finally, it is critical for small business owners to never agree to a delivery schedule that cannot be guaranteed. While this might secure an immediate sale, when the order fails to arrive on time, the cost in terms of lost future sales and recommendations will have an adverse effect.
Unfortunately, most small businesses are unable to compete with larger organisations on price due to lack of storage and capital that would allow them to purchase in large quantities. Often, the differential is so marked that potential customers are left with no choice but to shop at larger multiple stores and supermarkets. In the retail sector, this means that customers may use a local convenience store for after-hours shopping or the purchase of individual items that do not warrent a trip to the supermarket.
There are two ways small retail businesses can compete at some level in such an environment. Firstly, they need to take advantage of every discount available from their suppliers and secondly they can band together with other similar stores in the vicinity and, through larger supply requirements, perhaps be able to lower the price that is charged to the customer.
Lack of choice
Seldom would a small retail business be able to compete with providing the range of choice available in the multiples and discount stores. Similarly, smaller service based businesses cannot always compete with the range of services provided by the national and international professional and other services organisations.
However, it is important to listen to customers. Make a note of anything that a customer asks for that your business does not currently stock or offer as a service. Discuss these with other customers and if a significant number begin to like the idea then do a trial run. Offer the product of service for a limited period. If it proves popular and, improves sales of other items, consider including it as a regular offer. Customers become more loyal if businesses take notice of their preferences.
Partnering with other small businesses is another way to improve the quantity and quality of products and services available to the customer. For example, a garage owner may partner with a local tyre and/or MOT station to provide a wider range of services, perhaps at a slightly discounted price. This not only saves the customer costs, but also the time required to search for their individual requirements. Similar partnering arrangements can also provide a positive customer experience in the service industry sector.
Location and access
Finally, there is the problem with location and access to many small businesses. Here again there is usually not the resources, capital or land available for such businesses to site themselves in main shopping centres and often their location and even existence can be difficult to find. Furthermore, parking is also a frequent issue.
To combat these difficulties it is essential that the owner of the business clearly identify the location of their business on any promotional and advertising material that is used to attract the customer. Any assistance in terms of directions and local parking facilities should also be included. This shows the customer that the owner really cares and wants to make the customers’ experience as easy and relaxed as possible.
For any small business to survive the owner/entrepreneur needs to pay attention to detail, especially in relation to the relationship they wish to build with their customers. In many ways, this means going the ‘extra mile’ and making up for any deficiencies in the areas mentioned above by increasing the level of service quality provided. Moreover, they need also to address the issues outlined in the way recommended, which will limit the level of dissatisfaction and frustration being experienced by the customer.