Large businesses have the resources to pour into large customer service operations, and some of them are top-notch in this department as a result. On the flipside, there are plenty of major brands that leave customers frustrated and unhappy.

If big companies have poor customer service, that means a large group of people unfortunately have to suffer through bad experiences. However, it can be good news for the small business owner. It presents an opportunity to stand out and be recognized for providing the good customer service that larger companies may lack. Even if you have difficulty competing with big companies on pricing, customer service is an area where you should be able to make a major impression. Small businesses have the unique ability to offer a more human approach.

As Anthony Tjan, Founder and CEO of venture capital firm Cue Ball, writes in Harvard Business Review, "Too much customer service — especially in large companies — has devolved to standard operating procedures and scripted answers delivered with artificial calmness. To an upset customer, these automated responses often seem inappropriate or absurd.”1

He proclaims the two best customer-service practices to be "sincere empathy over indifferent calmness" and "common sense over standard operating procedure." By default, small businesses are better equipped to excel in both approaches. Also, they don't have large numbers of employees to train, so there usually isn’t a “one size fits all” standard operating procedure.

Still, it can't hurt to see what you can learn from your larger competitors. Clearly, they've done some things right to get where they are. Don't be opposed to spending some time in their facilities to observe practices (both right and wrong). Look at ways you can emulate their strengths and excel where they are weaker.

Make sure your dedication to customer service is understood and practiced throughout your organization. Lead by example, and stress the importance of this competitive advantage to your employees. Make sure you provide the right training, software, and equipment, to help them achieve an optimal level of service.

Customer service is often cited as the top reason consumers choose small businesses. To gain an advantage over their larger competitors, savvy small businesses offer  great service, personalized interactions, and an extensive knowledge of customers’ needs.

Delivering on these objectives requires starting with the right tools. Have a website that clearly provides the information that customers would be likely to look for, and maintain open lines of communication to answer any other questions they might have. This means making it easy to find your phone number, and being ready to communicate and respond quickly on social media channels.

You should also have up-to-date point-of-sale systems and reliable WiFi that will enable you to easily assist customers who require you to look things up. Be sure to provide customers with a way to provide feedback to you directly. This will not only help you learn about areas where you're doing well and where you can use some improvement, but it also provides customers with an outlet to express their concerns that may prevent them from voicing complaints on Yelp or social media sites, or spreading negative comments through word-of-mouth.

It's also a good idea to take any feedback into consideration, whether you agree or disagree with it. Even if you think the customer is off-base regarding a particular complaint or suggestion, it can be helpful to stop and consider what led them to arrive at that conclusion. If you can at least see things from their point of view, you may be able to gain some perspective and prevent similar experiences in the future.

If your customer service isn't improving on an ongoing basis, chances are, it will gradually decline until you lose the competitive edge that you need. It’s an important factor in your future success, so make it a priority and give it the ongoing attention it deserves.  


The information provided is presented for general informational purposes only and does not constitute tax, legal or business advice. Any views expressed in this article may not necessarily be those of Nevada State Bank. Nevada State Bank is a division of Zions Bancorporation, N.A. Member FDIC