Where do you shop for most of your goods and services? No doubt you have several options.
You can purchase goods from larger retailers, buy or consume food from chain stores and restaurants, or patronize local small businesses. Very often, you have the luxury of choosing any and all of these. Take, for example, the pet store market. Many towns now feature large national chains at one end of town and smaller, independently owned pet stores at the other.
With so much choice, commoditization and budget-driven buying behavior, how can this small business owner stand out? For many consumers, even in a budget-conscious economy, the answer lies in the customer experience.
Small businesses are in a unique position to create valuable customer experiences. Their products and services are often niche and business operations are agile and unconstrained by big business rules and processes. When was the last time you called a small business and got put through to an automated call center?
These seemingly small things come together to create a hugely competitive value proposition.
Here are some things you can do to focus your sales, marketing and operational efforts to create a unique customer experience and capitalize on your small business value:
1. Understand Your Differentiators
To deliver a unique and memorable customer experience, it is key to understand what differentiates you from your competition and to frame your marketing around these differentiators. Even if you’re selling a service in a highly competitive space, there is always something that should differentiate your business.
Take, for example, the saturated home painting business. How can you differentiate yourself from the other contractors in your community? Yes, price is important, but what else have you got to offer? Do you supervise all projects? Can you guarantee a start and finish date? Do you have customer testimonials that explain how you’ve gone above and beyond to help customers? Your value-add is starting to emerge – and this can differentiate you.
Talk to your employees – what are they hearing from customers about why they do business with you? Don’t be afraid to solicit feedback from your customers too – if anyone knows what your differentiators are, it’s your customers!
Freelancers and independent contractors can also use differentiators in this way – think about ways you can make yourself indispensable to your client’s team and critical to their success.
Above all, be an advocate for your differentiators in everything you do.
2. Be True to Your Values
Your core business values drive such things as your work ethic, your interaction with and commitment to your customers and employees, and, of course, your dedication to delivering fine products and services.
These values are important because they embody how you do business and what your customer comes to expect of you.
3. Be Your Own Brand Advocate
How you advocate on behalf of your business is a critical part of being a successful small business owner. Your brand isn’t just your logo or store frontage, it represents how you fold your differentiators and values into everything you do – how you deliver your products and services, how you conduct operations, your relationships with suppliers, what community marketing efforts you take part in, etc. Don’t ignore all these elements that come into play to create your customer experience.
4. Don’t Forget Your Employees
It’s not enough that you advocate for your business, it helps if your employees are equally invested and actively extending and reinforcing your brand message and core values. Every time anyone in your business communicates with a prospect or customer, it counts. Conduct regular training sessions, appoint a trainer or have new employees shadow you.
Set employee performance goals that align with your business objectives and values. For example, if one of your business differentiators is reliability and agility, think of goals that reward individuals who are always one step ahead of customer expectations or deliverables.
Last but not least, be sure to roll all of the above into your marketing messages. Develop customer testimonials, craft succinct statements that explain not just who you are but why you’re different and what customers can expect from you.
How are you creating a unique experience for your customers?
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