Do you think small businesses can be better at customer service than large corporates?
Small businesses have the advantage that they tend to have more of a personal, direct relationship with their customers, which presents an opportunity for intimate customer service.
The reality however is that small businesses that grow rapidly often find themselves struggling with customer service because they may not have the systems and processes in place to deal with the growth in customer demand.
Therefore the level of customer service is not necessarily tied to the size of a business, rather it is tied to a business's commitment to the customer experience and the people, processes and technology that the business invest in delivering this.
How should SMEs make the most of their closeness to customers?
Small businesses have an opportunity to align their brand promise around customer experience and to harness the knowledge they have about their customers to consistently deliver on this promise.
However in the digital economy, customers expect to connect with any business, big or small, not just face-to-face but through a variety of channels such as online, mobile, and social.
Small businesses need to make sure they leverage the customer insight they have to engage in a personalised, meaningful way regardless of the channel. Of course this opens up opportunities for small businesses to not be constrained by size or location and expand their reach globally.
What technology can they use to back it up?
Subscription based cloud technologies have made it possible for small businesses to have access to the same level of sophistication in delivering customer experience that is available to large corporations. For instance, a small business can deliver powerful web self-service and online chat capabilities to their customers at a very low cost aligned to their business's needs. This is without requiring any investment in hardware infrastructure or deep IT skills.
In a recent study conducted by Oracle, organisations in APAC plan to spend an average increase of 20 per cent on customer experience technology in the next two years (Global Insights of succeeding in the Customer Experience Era, Feb 14, 2013)
Social marketing is another example of a cloud-based technology a small business could use to connect with customers online and nurture the customer relationship to drive increased value, as well as e-commerce and sales automation to ensure a great buying experience for the customer.
Can you think of any examples where a small business has really used it closeness to customers to expand their offering and flourish?
'Closeness to customer' has really been redefined in the digital economy. Businesses can be closer to customers than ever before, they can engage with them anytime and anywhere, they can be with them in their living room or on the train as they browse their tablet or smartphone. A small business can take and fulfil an order from customers from anywhere in the world. .
I recently wanted to surprise my mum with flowers on her birthday - halfway around the world. A quick web search directed me to a local flower shop that provided online ordering. I I browsed their online catalogue, ordered an arrangement within minutes, and a couple of hours later the flowers were delivered. This is a great example of a small business that has expanded by leveraging its unique position to deliver fresh flowers locally, while taking orders globally.
Do you think everyone in the business should have customer service training rather than just the sales people? Have you seen this work well?
Yes, absolutely. Businesses that excel in customer service do not see it just as a function of one part of the organisation - it is part of their core values, entrenched in the organisation's DNA, driving every staff member as they engage with customers through marketing, sales or service. In fact this should not be limited to the front-line staff. Back-office processes such as billing or IT can impact the customer experience, for example an inaccurate bill or a website that is difficult to navigate.
In a recent global survey commissioned by Oracle, one of the most successful customer experience initiatives that businesses highlighted was embedding customer experience in the core values of an organisation. (Global Insights of succeeding in the Customer Experience Era, Feb 14, 2013)
How do fast growing SMEs maintain the cosy customer relationships they had in the early days even when they are approaching medium size?
To maintain a cosy relationship, a combination of making customer experience a core value, training staff on the importance of maintaining customer focus, and putting the systems and processes in place to enable the experience, is needed.
As mentioned before, cloud technologies makes it possible for a small business to implement systems (such as CRM) that allows them to maintain complete and accurate customer information and pro-actively engage with customers based on this information.
This can result in the delivery of a personalised online experience based on the customer profile, the products or services they have and their location. For instance, one of our customers has a global presence but is using social marketing tools to deliver a localised Facebook page based on the customer's postcode, with local community information and localised offers to their followers.