Women Put Customers First, Strategy Second

Last week we published a press release about a study put together by Forbes Insight and KeyBank’s Key4Women that looked at how women-owned businesses were coming out of the recession and their attitudes regarding customer service. The survey collected responses from 320 female small business owners and found that while they’re taking a very customer-centric approach to business, most are sticking with the “tried and true” (read: old) methods of customer service and aren’t putting actual customer service strategies in place. Scary.

As a woman small business owner, I was pretty surprised by many of the findings. The study found that post-recession, women business owners are focused on customer service.  Eighty-four percent of respondents said that customer relationships were the core of their business, putting faith in the old adage that it costs more to gain a new customer than it does to keep an old one. You would think, then, that we’d find women small business owners all over social media. That they’d be using tools like blogs, Twitter and Facebook to increase engagement and stay abreast of customer issues, their wants, needs, etc.

However, that’s not the case.

According to the study, more than 60 percent of respondents admitted to NOT tracking social media to find out what customers were saying about them, with fewer than 10 percent stepping in to engage with people. Broken down by platform, the number of women small business owners using social media to track conversations looks like this:

  • LinkedIn – 37 percent
  • Facebook – 27 percent
  • Twitter – 17 percent
  • Blogging – 16 percent

Twenty-four percent of respondents said they weren’t using ANY type of social media. Ouch.

When it comes to customer retention, it may be in womens’ minds, but it’s not being reflected in their business strategy. Only 18 percent of those surveyed said they have a dedicated customer service strategy (27 percent admitted to having none), 55 percent said they instead address customer service on a case-by-case basis. I found that pretty surprising, knowing how time invasive is to continually have to make “judgment calls” instead of creating a streamlined process.

Even scarier: 25 percent of respondents said they didn’t have a Web site.

I was really surprised to see the reluctance of women small business owners to get involved with social media and to, instead, stick to older, more classic forms of engagement. Women are known for their ability to create relationships and be human, and nowhere is that more successful or useful than in social media. One woman surveyed responded that she didn’t engage in social media because it wasn’t for “businesses like hers” and instead she engaged by handing out business cards during local events and placing ads in a phone book. With more and more phone books going away and becoming doorstops, that scares me from a business perspective.

If you’re a small business owner NOT engaging in social media, I’d recommend you start to get involved. Engaging in social media allows you to find out about issues faster so that you can react faster. It helps you to track interactions and see what people are saying about you. You can find out directly from them what they want in your store, what they don’t need and their overall experience. It seems crazy that anyone would ignore these channels.  If customers are the core of your business, than your social media strategy is how you measure its health.

Are you building a strategy around the business elements that are important to you or are you just sticking to “what’s always worked” and hoping it continues to?


Lisa Barone Lisa Barone is Vice President of Strategy at Overit, an Albany Web design and development firm where she serves on the senior staff overseeing the company’s marketing consulting, social media, and content divisions.

12 Reactions
  1. Lisa…The social media numbers are somewhat surprising but 25% don’t have a website??? Blows me away…Real businesses have websites.

  2. Lisa, i’ve read studies that show 50% of small companies don’t have a website, so the women-owned ones are far ahead!

  3. Implementation of strategy is often much more difficult than formulating the strategy; and the stats seem to support that conclusion. Do you think it’s a lack of confidence in the strategy or that they just don’t have the time?

  4. Phyllis Nichols

    This is a wake up for me – as a trainer and provider of sales strategy/process/services I am surprised that women owned businesses aren’t embracing social media and the chance to enhance client relationships.

    I’m sending this to all my clients! Great info, thanks for sharing.

  5. Teresa Jackson


    Great reminder about the importance of social media and I am trying to stick with it. But how exactly do you track what customers want through social media? I belong to LinkedIn but I cannot find any ongoing conversations relevant to my business? I have seen my web site and blog hits go up but not to the point where I can justify all the time spent so far with social media.


  6. CathyWebSavvyPR

    It seems to me that there a MANY women using social media for business in very strong ways. And that they often put customer service first& strategy second – but in a good way. They build relationships online with friends and prospects, and provide great, useful information online – then they sell. the old adage people buy from people they know and trust seems to work for many online.

    I’m also wondering what type and size of businesses were in the survey sample. It seems true that many larger small businesses are hesitating over how to approach the new social web. It may be that the some of the smaller businesses who might not have made it into their survey, might leap ahead of the more traditional businesses during this recession; many a garage start up has moved forward into prominence during past recessions.

  7. Hi Lisa. Interesting stats – would love to know the equivalence on the male side. Just as a matter of interest, what sized companies were you looking at – people rather than revenues (aware that the initial report was based on dub $10million) or was this information not collated. It would be interesting to see if the most progressive at engagement were single person entities or the bigger groups. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Social Media is a CRITICAL component of my marketing strategy and relationship building. I am with you… shocked by the numbers of women in business who are not tapping into this incredible resource! Thanks to social media, small businesses can extend their reach beyond their local region and into the global marketplace. My guess as to why so many are not engaging in Social Media is that #1 they don’t believe in its effectiveness, #2 they don’t know how.

    Susan Liddy