As the new year starts you are no doubt thinking about the tools and the strategies that can help your business grow this year. E-commerce. Websites. Apps. Marketing automation. Social media. And the list goes on and on. And these are certainly good ideas to be thinking about. But, let me offer you a slightly different focus. Make this the year that you make your business more personal, more likable, more…well….human.
One thing (in my opinion, maybe the TOP thing) that small businesses have going for them is that they can be closer to their customers. Just think about the experience you have walking into a large department store vs. your local clothing shop. Does anyone at that large store act like they truly want to help you? Probably not. Does anyone there actually talk to you? Get to know you? Really try to understand your needs? No way.
Contrast that with a great small business experience. The shop owner on Main Street will be thrilled that you simply walked in. They are happy to chat with you. They will ask you about your clothing style. I bet they ask you what you’re buying these new clothes for. And I bet they actually listen to your answer – and react to it. A dress for your son’s wedding? “Awesome! Congratulations!” You’re not sure what you are looking for? “Here, let me show you a few things that might look really good on you.”
Now, let’s think about your small business in this new year. What steps can you take to make your business more personal, more friendly. How can you make that experience remarkably human? Here are a couple of ideas:
- It Starts with People
You really have to look at your staff with a critical eye. Not just that they can do the job well, but can they do it well…in a warm, inviting way. Do they have the mannerisms and the personalities that are so important to making a one-to-one connection with customers? How?
Start by making a list of the characteristics you want your team to have as it relates to customer interaction. Think about your ideal customers and what a wonderful experience would be for them. Think about how an employee can deliver that. Is it friendliness? Warmth? Listening skills? Try to put these characteristics in priority order. Some are probably more important than others.
Next, look at your current employees. Do they all fit that description? Rate each one for each of these characteristics. For those that fall down in a number of these categories you may have to consider making a change. For those that miss on a few, think about how you might coach them to strengthen those skills.
Compensation and recognition…..
Now, look at your hiring process. Think about your list of characteristics. Think about your employees that are great at most or all of them. And think about ways that your recruiting and hiring process supports bringing in those top performers – and weeds out those that simply won’t be a good fit.
(I assume you already know what they need skill-wise to do the job.)
- Look at Yourself Through Your Customers’ Eyes
When was the last time you stepped back and looked at your environment from the viewpoint of the customer? I mean start to finish. Is every part of that experience wonderful for your customers? Is it an environment that makes them feel welcome? One they want to come back to? Develop a list of customer interaction points. And for each of those points describe what a great experience would be and what a poor experience would be. Where do you fall on each scale?
Here’s a great (and maybe a little scary) test. Ask someone not affiliated with your business – maybe a friend of a friend to help you by being a “mystery shopper”. Turn that list you just developed into a kind of questionnaire with each interaction listed and a scale from worst to best (with a description of what worst and best mean). And leave a space for any additional comments/insights/ideas. Get that questionnaire to your mystery shopper. Ask them to stop in unannounced, whenever they want. Have them complete the questionnaire. And above all else ask them to be completely HONEST.
Ok, I made up that word. But, the truth is that in our stretch to reach more and more people faster and faster, we find many ways to implement technology. And that in and of itself is not a bad thing. But, have we stuck technology between ourselves and our customers?
A great example is the telephone. Do your customers’ phone calls go into a boring, corporate-sounding voice recording followed by a maze of choices? How would the customer experience be better if someone (gasp…a human) answered the phone in a warm, friendly way to answer questions and offer help? Are there ways that you have placed technology between you and your customers? Remove it.
- Create The Space
I always think that one big thing about smaller businesses is that they have an atmosphere that is warm and inviting. This can and should be part of the mystery shopping assessment. But you also know what kind of experience you are trying to create for your customers. You know what sort of experience they expect and want.
- Get Customers Involved
There are so many ways to engage your customers in a more personal way. You should identify a few and try them out. Here are a couple of suggestions to get you started.
– Ask them for new product or service suggestions
– Ask them to test out new products you are considering and tell you what they think
– Ask them to be part of an “advisory” team to provide ongoing feedback and ideas. make them part of the team
We all know that customers are the lifeblood of any business. But that goes doubly so for smaller businesses. You are in a position to truly get closer to your customers. And the success of your business can be made or broken on how well you take advantage of that opportunity. Let’s make this the year that you get closer to them.