Many business owners appear to have an “If I build it, they not only will come,” but they will stick around attitude. Unfortunately, many small business owners fail to take several important steps that will mean the difference between getting new business and losing it.
Last year, Bloomberg reported that eight out of ten (80 percent) of small businesses fail. While financial difficulties appear to be the primary reason, it’s the smaller problems leading up to a businesses’ demise that result in their ultimate failure.
One big sticking point for many businesses, big or small, is customer service. Just because you have a product or service to offer it doesn’t mean people will come-a- callin’ … and keep calling, until you answer. It may sound like a no-brainer to have someone available at all times to answer customer calls, but many small businesses don’t. In fact, some don’t even bother to use an answering machine. Instead, the phone rings and rings until a potential customer hangs up. That equates to lost advertising dollars. Before spending your money on an ad, invest in an answering machine.
Other small businesses with answering machines don’t bother to check their messages until the end of the day, or perhaps days later. By then your potential customer has moved on and your business has gone to a competitor.
Still others have someone answering the phone with little or no telephone etiquette. They might be ill equipped to answer questions, there might be unprofessional background noise (i.e. a dog barking or a child crying) or they just might be downright rude. Try having someone call your business while you are listening to see how that person answering your business calls responds. You might be surprised what you hear.
Customer service may start with the first call, but it goes much further. If you are providing a service and you schedule an appointment, be there on time! How many times has the repairman promised to be there at 9 a.m. only to show up at 11 a.m. – or worse yet not at all. The same goes for a business that advertises it is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., but when a customer arrives at 9:05 a.m. and the doors are still closed and the lights are out, how long do you think that customer will stick around?
Failure to follow through is another reason companies lose business. They make the initial contact; agree to provide a service; and then poof, they are gone. This happened to me last year when I was looking for a landscaper. I interviewed five different companies and decided to hire one. I called and texted the owner several times, he kept putting me off until finally I stopped calling and decided to hire someone else. In the meantime, none of the other companies I interviewed even bothered to follow up to see if I had made a decision. Had they, I might have decided to go with one of them. Instead, I hired an entirely different landscaper who wasn’t even part of the initial interview process.
While many of these may sound like common sense suggestions, obviously there are many companies that need a refresher course. Remember, you are only as good as your last customer and if you are not bringing in new ones, or keeping the old ones, you may become part of the 80 percent of businesses that fail.
Susan R. Miller is founder of Garton-Miller Media, a full-service, South Florida-based public relations firm. Susan is a former journalist with more than 30 years of experience. She has written for local, state and national publications. Her clients include attorneys, non-profit organizations and healthcare professionals.
Garton-Miller Media is a full-service, South Florida-based public relations firm. Founder Susan R. Miller has 30 years of experience as a writer, journalist and PR professional.