Small business owners know establishing personal connections with customers is critical for growth. But with limited resources, there’s often not enough time or money for reaching out and developing close relationships.
In fact, the latest Small & Medium Business Trends Report from Salesforce Research shows that 58% of small business owners see meeting those expectations as a challenge. Not only that, but because they have fewer resources, 53% of small business owners feel they’re at a competitive disadvantage versus larger enterprises when it comes to meeting customer expectations. So what’s a smart small business owner to do?
One of the best ways for a small business to differentiate itself from the competition is to build a strong customer-first culture. With the right culture, backed by technology, even the smallest businesses can meet and exceed customer expectations.
Culture needs to be intentional, and it’s best if you build it into your company starting from day one. Culture doesn’t just happen. It’s informed by your values, so it’s important to define your core values up front and decide whether customer-centricity is one of them. (Hint: It should be!) While a company’s culture can grow organically after establishing its values, it’s also possible to create that culture systematically.
It isn’t enough to simply declare that a company will become customer-centric and cross your fingers, hoping for the best. There has to be a plan in place behind it.
So how can a business deliver the kind of personalized experience customers expect when it’s strapped for resources? You need the right systems in place, which means using the right technology and rewarding the right behavior within the company. Here are four key steps:
Step 1. Make finding information easy for everyone.
Today’s customers often want to help themselves. If they have questions, they search for answers online first. Most people will email or call only if they absolutely have to. The aversion is strong: Thirty-four percent of Millennials would rather go to the dentist than contact a customer call center.
This is great news for small businesses. When you offer self-help, you can level the playing field with your larger competitors. Companies need to provide self-help options and make sure their websites are updated and as comprehensive as possible. And when a curious customer does want to pick up the phone, make sure they get to the right person as soon as possible. When customers can easily find the information they’re looking for, your time-strapped teams can focus on higher-priority customer service needs. It’s easier for everyone.
Step 2. Measure your efforts.
Small business owners are often focused on moving fast, but careful analysis can save wasted effort. By taking the time to implement a set of key performance indicators from the very start, companies will give themselves a benchmark that lets them measure success and continually track their progress toward goals. On top of that, they will to clearly see how their actions impact customers.
When establishing the KPIs you want to track, it’s important to think about your endgame: Are you measuring short-term success (such as deals closed) but neglecting to look at long-term relationships (e.g., repeat customers)? With today’s technologies, you have a truckload of data available at your fingertips. Be sure to take advantage of it! Build a focus on measurements like the Customer Satisfaction Score or Net Promoter Score into your business at the start, and you’ll see that reflected in the culture you create.
Step 3. Reward the right behavior.
Processes and policies help shape a company’s culture. To really strengthen a customer-first ethos, you need to put programs in place that will support the behavior you want to see. For example, many companies evaluate customer-support agents by the percentage of cases they can close after the first email or phone call, or how quickly they can close them. Is there a way that might work better for your team? Might customers increase their loyalty if agents spent more time with them? Could these changes also lead to word-of-mouth referrals?
It’s not just the agents that need to be rewarded for helping customers. Be sure to look at your sales compensation. Everyone, from the receptionist to the CEO, can help drive customer happiness. If you build recognition for their efforts into your processes and programs, you’ll support a customer-centric culture companywide.
Step 4. Integrate feedback.
Many startups spend a lot of time and money building products that customers ultimately don’t want. But customer service feedback can help you avoid costly mistakes. No matter the size of your company or support team, connecting with customers is vital.
The insights your agents derive from customer interactions should drive your product road map and strategy. While customer service issues are seen as negative, they contain a wealth of information; read into them, and you can learn a tremendous amount about the modifications and improvements customers would most like to see.
Early on at Salesforce, we built a platform called IdeaExchange. Customers used the IdeaExchange to post about features they wanted to see in our product. With those suggestions entered, the community then voted them up or down. It was a simple customer-facing mechanism that gave our customers a strong voice in what we were doing, and now we’re building a new IdeaExchange with even greater transparency.
Creating a customer-first culture is crucial, but many companies aren’t clear on how to get there — or even how to get started. Follow these four steps to start building the right structure and culture that puts customers at the center of everything you do.
As Senior Vice President of Small and Medium Business Marketing at Salesforce, Marie Rosecrans focuses on empowering SMBs with the tools and resources they need to grow. Before joining Salesforce in 2008, she held positions in customer support, professional services, product marketing, and program management at Oracle, Peoplesoft, Evolve, and Primavera. Marie lives in the San Francisco Bay area and enjoys hiking and traveling with her husband, teen, and tween.