Today, we’re constantly inundated with news of massive mergers and the dominance of large corporations. But it’s worth remembering that even the largest businesses were once small. Apple’s humble garage beginnings are proof enough of this. No matter the size of a business, success ultimately depends on brand reputation, which is largely determined by customer experience.
In some cases, the larger a company gets, the less connected to its customers it becomes. We’ve all seen stories of giant corporations crumbling as a result of poor communication and public relations. If a small business is to even survive, it must truly connect with its customers and make a difference in their lives. As a result of this necessity, many successful small businesses can teach a thing or two to their larger counterparts who may have forgotten or lost their way. Here are six customer experience lessons to learn from small businesses.
1. Know Your Customers
When you own a small business, you’re probably starting out with a single location. And granted, it’s a lot easier to learn the names and faces of your customers when you’re planted in one area for a while. Still, truly getting to know your customers requires some effort. This means striking up a conversation with anyone who walks in and making an effort to remember the names and interests of those who visit more than once.
Not every customer will want to divulge their life story to you, of course, but most people appreciate when a business takes the time to make the human connection. Plus, the more you know about them, the more you can customize their experience. For instance, you might encounter a customer who prefers small shopping baskets over large shopping carts. Being aware of this allows you to give that customer what they need when they come back.
Just because multi-location businesses span across regions doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try to know their customers, too. The tactics might be different, however. Larger businesses might send out surveys and initiate email campaigns to learn more about their customers. The key here is making a personal connection. If this can’t be done remotely, institute a policy in your company culture that all franchises engage with customers at the local level. This will increase brand loyalty and make even the largest company more relatable.
2. Establish a Caring Culture
This second lesson stems from the first one. Successful small businesses care about the experiences of all their customers. This caring culture can be expressed in many ways. As previously mentioned, learning the names and backgrounds of your customers shows that you care. Taking pride in your products, services, and storefront shows that you care as well. Customers take notice of all of this. A clean, well-organized business leaves a positive impression on customers. Showing that you care about your business will make your customers care, too.
3. Focus on Feedback
A business cannot see all of its faults or improve itself without good feedback. This feedback greatly matters regardless of a business’ size, too. Smaller businesses need to find ways to get more of it while larger businesses must figure out how to sort through and respond to all of it. Because small businesses typically receive fewer reviews and comments than large enterprises, they may value the criticism they do receive even more. This allows small businesses to respond to every review and make precise changes based on this feedback that will improve customer experience.
Larger businesses should also take all the feedback they receive to heart, and make an effort to reply to reviews whenever possible. Both small and large businesses should also actively try to garner more reviews, as every piece of criticism reveals an opportunity to make things better for every customer.
4. Make Things Easy
In most cases, less is more, even for the largest corporations. The less friction customers have to face, the better. Many small businesses get this right by default because they have to watch their budget closely. As your business grows, you might be tempted to add unnecessary flourishes and technology that in turn make your operation more complicated than it needs to be. Instead, make things easy for your customers. If you own a grocery store, make sure there are plenty of available shopping baskets and carts, for instance. Clearly label where items or services are located. Construct shopping cart corrals for easy access, etc.
5. Incentivize Future Visits
You always want to gain new customers, but a large portion of a business’ revenue often comes from repeat customers. Knowing this, you want to do everything in your power to reel people back in. You can do this by making the customer experience memorable and valuable. Plenty of businesses, big and small, give their customers punch cards or memberships that yield discounts, coupons, free products, and more. Beyond these benefits, providing things like free WiFi, accessible parking, plenty of small shopping carts, a lounge area, etc. can really encourage people to come back and stay a while.
6. Engage with the Community
Participating in community events benefits a business in many ways. For one thing, it’s a way to advertise your goods and services to local customers. Additionally, being an active member of the community enhances your brand’s reputation. You’ll find that most successful small businesses take part in or host local fundraisers and celebrations.
You might think that big businesses are too far removed from local communities to do the same. But larger businesses tend to have more power and financial means than smaller businesses, allowing them to do even more for their communities. However, the key here is to truly engage and be a part of something on this more intimate scale. Otherwise, you’ll fail to connect with your customers on the local level.
The Experience is Everything
In recent years, consumers have begun to value experiences more than products. This even includes small experiences like visiting a local coffee shop and reading for a few hours. Many small businesses are taking note of this trend and doing more to enhance the experiences they offer their customers. Larger businesses should follow suit. When your customers are happy, they’re more likely to remain loyal to your brand, after all. So, get to know your customers, show that you care, value their feedback, simplify your operations, encourage them to come back, and engage with the local spaces you serve.
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