Customers Expect Small Businesses to be Friendlier than Big Ones, Study Says

Small Business Customer Expectations

Is it really possible to truly meet the expectations customers have of your small business? This of course greatly depends on the customers and the type of service you provide. But new research has revealed small businesses are held to a higher standard of friendliness.

Small Business Customer Expectations

The U of T Scarborough report says customers expect small businesses to be more honest, more helpful and friendlier. Not only that, they react differently based on the size of the company when they are subjected to bad behavior.

For small business owners, this is yet another challenge they will have to face when competing with their large counterparts. But it is one which can easily be solved by treating their customer with courtesy and respect. And at the end of the day, it won’t cost a dime.

As to why customers feel this way, the study’s co-author Pankaj Aggarwal, a marketing professor in U of T Scarborough’s Department of Management, said it all comes down to expectations.

In the news release Aggarwal said, “It feels very wrong when a small business mistreats us because we expect them to be warmer and friendlier.”

He added, “On the other hand, we don’t expect larger companies to be particularly warm or friendly, so when they fail to be nice it doesn’t come as a big surprise.”

The Research

The research was carried out across five studies. The feelings and perception of size is an interesting one because it didn’t affect their view on efficiency, effectiveness or organization.

However, size affects consumer expectation for behaviors described as communal such as friendliness, caring, honesty, and being helpful. And this the researchers say is due to our expectations about power.

Power which is based on size shapes the expectations of consumers for small and large businesses. Aggarwal has labeled this behavior as brand anthropomorphism, which is the idea we give human traits to companies and products. Romanticizing small business is one of the anthropomorphism traits consumers attach to a company.

Managing Customer Expectation

The research says it is possible to manage customer expectation for businesses of any size. And Aggarwal added companies may have more control over customer expectations than previously thought.

With the right marketing, a brand can say it is bigger or smaller to achieve the desired expectation from customers. But making these claims can have unintended consequences if the businesses don’t deliver.

Large companies, for example, can brand themselves as being smaller. This, in turn, will make them seem warm and friendly. But if they fail, it can be worse than when customers didn’t expect them to be warm and friendly.

The research goes on to say large companies still have an advantage over small businesses. This is because they can be less warm and friendly without experiencing the punishment small companies suffer.


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Michael Guta Michael Guta is the Assistant Editor at Small Business Trends and has been with the team for 9 years. He currently manages its East African editorial team. Michael brings with him many years of content experience in the digital ecosystem covering a wide range of industries. He holds a B.S. in Information Communication Technology, with an emphasis in Technology Management.