With a small customer base, you can be very accommodating. You’ll happily perform backbends to retain flexible business systems. This is how you grew into the business that you are today. But, with a larger customer base, all those backbends would send you straight to a chiropractor. It’s officially time to take on a new mindset by redefining what flexibility in business means.
Learn from your earlier small business experiences.
Regardless of your size, customers want you to be attentive to their needs. Even though you need to change the way you provide customer service, never forget what you did for your customers during the early days of your business. You can no longer turn on a dime for every customer. By incorporating some of your earlier practices into current activities, however, you can learn to turn on a “silver dollar” instead.
The first step is to convert your memories into useful data. Look at the types of customization you used to perform for your customers. Perhaps you hand-delivered print jobs to meet sudden due-date reductions. Or, maybe you allowed tax clients to submit their data in any format, even if you had to get creative to convert it before you could process their returns. Don’t forget how many times you had to hand-paint your standard blue widgets for customers that wanted purple ones.
Once you have a comprehensive list, you probably realize that you performed certain special services frequently. If you see a pattern in requests from multiple customers, then you can readily identify former customizations that need to become standard offerings. This is huge. You now have a roadmap to keep customers happy without breaking your back.
Yesterday’s customization does not have to disappear.
What do most of your customers ask for? If procrastination is common among your base, then building same-day service (extra charges are OK) into your offerings will keep them happy. If you spend too much time programming certain special features into your custom software, then maybe it’s time to build modules that allow you to drop in popular features, rather than program them from scratch.
By all means, build the most popular features into your basic offerings. But, as long as you know what customer special requests typically look like, you can set up operations so you appear as flexible as you ever were, while retaining control over daily activities (and returning a level of sanity to your team).
Use your expertise to educate customers about their true needs.
Your customers may be smart. But, when it pertains to your products or services, you are smarter — at least until you educate them. Just think of how better-served your customers can be when you tell them about possible tax write-offs throughout the year rather than waiting until December 1st when they generally first ask how to save on taxes. They’ll also know that you truly care when you explain that plated silver widgets last twice as long as the un-plated, specially-painted purple ones that they seem to want so much.
Customer education comes in many forms. You might keep the information flowing best through direct sales conversations or through a marketing campaign with an educational bent. Or, you might pick up the phone or send online links to share information that they need to know. As they become smarter, then they won’t expect as much flexibility from you. They’ll know that you’ve got their back.
Standardization can lead to innovation.
Don’t assume that standardized products and services automatically affect your standing among competing businesses. Standardization translates to cost savings and efficiency. You might easily discover that you can now afford to spend more time and resources on the competitive intelligence and creative thinking needed to innovate. And, that can put your business at the front of the pack.
You can pamper customers without too many backbends.
Standardization gives you greater control over operations, quality and the ability to support your products/services. When you develop new practices based on your knowledge of customer needs and wants, then standardization can lead to greater satisfaction, as well.
Sometimes, it’s hard to stop providing customers with the individualized service that they learned to expect when your business was small. Still, there’s no reason why your customers can’t continue to see personalized care and attention from your standardized systems. This is one case where perception can truly be a reality for every customer.
Carol Roth is a radio host on WGN, a CNBC TV contributor, a ‘recovering’ investment banker & a bestselling author of The Entrepreneur Equation. You can find her on Twitter @CarolJSRoth or at www.CarolRoth.com. She also has an action figure made in her likeness.