There’s one small business mistake you absolutely have to avoid as a successful entrepreneur.
Most entrepreneurs know there are only two words that really matter. Customer and service. And getting them wrong is the small business mistake that will cost you everything.
In fact, there’s increasing evidence the most important factor in the success or failure of any business is anticipating customer needs.
Not just knowing them. Predicting them.
Customer service will soon be more important than even the pricing of similar products, according to new research.
The classic small business mistake – a tale
Even in the year 2019 sometimes my own small business needs something printed.
It’s relatively rare, this use of paper, so I refuse to invest in an at-home printer – which couldn’t handle all my needs anyway.
Fortunately, Yelp reviews alerted me to a nearby print shop.
My relief quickly turned to dread though as I descended the steps into the bowels of this surly mom and pop store.
It was like Santa’s workshop if all the elves were deeply unhappy and decided all the broken scraps of their labor was best left on the floor.
And unlike the North Pole, this place was hot. Unbearably hot as the industrial machines whirred away in this unventilated disaster of a space.
Ice cold though was the customer service.
I stood at the counter as the proprietor tapped away on her phone with no acknowledgment for nearly 5 minutes.
We’ve all seen. A customer-facing employee socializing or swiping away on a tablet before your eyes, without even acknowledging you.
It feels like a slight, even if that’s not the intent.
With so much time on my hands, I began to think about how much a friendly greeting from the people you do business with can really make your day.
And, how much it affects your impression of that business.
How to lose customers before you get them
This might all seem like a small thing.
After all, this was a busy shop where the services I needed were performed cheaply.
And, despite the rudeness, the wait, the shocking heat, and sheer indifference once finally served, I got my printed paper.
But the fact is, even though I’m in need of new business cards and the occasional signage or stack of documents, I won’t be going back to a business that doesn’t seem to want me in it.
And that matters more than you’d think.
Everything you do is networking
Some might argue here that printing is a volume business. Printing stuff is cheap. Small-time orders just don’t rate. That’s economics. If I want good service, go to Nordstrom and buy something pricey.
But this way of thinking is totally antithetical to small business success. EVERY customer has the potential to help grow your business geometrically.
I will have other, bigger printing needs down the line. But not here.
And more crucially, like all entrepreneurs, I’m in a network of similar and related small business owners. With similar needs.
Will this place get a recommendation to my extended network? Of course not.
Besides just being unhelpful to my colleagues, bad advice would reduce my value in my own network.
The customer service cure
I don’t attribute the mild but encouraging profitability of my own burgeoning small business to any particular talent. It’s wholly my willingness to exceed client expectations.
Just like at the print shop, I often do work at prices lower than I desire. At volume that is not ideal.
Unlike the print shop, which is now just a vacant building, all my customers get the exact same service. My absolute best.
That’s the right thing to do. But also, every customer is more than just the person sitting in front of you at that moment. They are both the repeat client of the future and an entire network of potential repeat clients. And all those people will either recommend your business to others or they will not.
Bad impressions are not isolated incidents. They are geometric opportunity costs that sprawl.
When you adjust for actual value, poor customer service is simply the most costly small business mistake of all.