How can SMEs gain a competitive edge over big business with customer service?
Mita Srinivasan

How can SMEs gain a competitive edge over big business with customer service?

In an exclusive piece to SME10x, Monica Malhotra, CEO and Founder of The Gaggler, a Dubai based digital lifestyle and e-commerce brand dedicated to empowering women, shares her view on how SMEs can gain a competitive digital edge over big businesses.

In today's competitive consumer market, making a great product alone is not enough to build a successful business. Building brand equity is critical, and as part of that, consumers need to be familiar with your brand, trust your service and feel they are getting value for money. For larger businesses with bigger resources, building brand reputation might seem more straightforward – more staff, larger marketing budgets, greater access to tools and resources. However, for start-ups and SMEs, while they might have access to fewer financial resources, one key point on which they can set themselves from larger conglomerates is customer service.

Agility is key

Thanks to their agility, SMEs can go the extra mile for customers and provide a highly personalised service where a big business could not. When customers feel like they have had their needs catered too, they are much more likely to return for repeat business, recommend the service and provide online reviews. In a survey conducted by American Express, consumers claimed they were willing to spend more on a product where they received good service. Providing exceptional service to customers is essential to building positive brand awareness, and without it, businesses are often doomed to fail.

The Gaggler's Top 5 Tips on delivering outstanding customer service

With that in mind, here are several pieces of strategic advice to ensure your business delivers exceptional customer service.

1. Create an omnichannel approach for speedy responses

An omnichannel approach to customer service means enabling customers to contact you with their questions and concerns across multiple channels – whether by phone, email, instant messaging service or social media. Setting up these channels creates an open door feeling where customers find it easy to contact you. This instantly sets the business apart from bigger corporations where it can often be difficult to reach support staff, or sometimes even find their contact details. This helps build brand trust and a more personal relationship with your customer. However, that doesn't mean that you have to be present on every possible channel out there – just the most popular ones with your customer base.

2. Empower your staff to make decisions

SMEs should have a set of policies in place to deliver consistent and reliable customer service. For example, when a customer complains about your product, the service recovery paradox's philosophy can be an excellent place to start. Reacting speedily, apologising and providing an incentive to ensure their return, if done in the right way, can ensure your customer is even happier than if they never had an issue with your product or service in the first place. Providing your employees with a guide on how or with what they can compensate a customer who has had a bad experience should also be included in the company's basic set of policies.

3. Demonstrate empathy and adopt flexibility

While having policies and procedures in your business is essential, what can really set an SME apart from big business is ensuring a flexible and personal approach to each customer. In many respects, this is not something that can be taught or written down in a company policy guide but rather depends on your staff's soft skills. While these can be much harder to instil in your workforce, empathy is a crucial skill to look for when hiring staff. Often empathising with a disappointed customer is the first step to regaining their trust, showing that you genuinely care about the service they receive. Again, this will require that staff feel empowered to make decisions quickly to keep your customers satisfied.

4. Deliver a personalised service

Delivering good customer service is not only about solving problems when they arise but making customers feel special. There is any number of ways an SME might go about delivering a personalised service to customers, and again, it needn't be expensive. From a handwritten 'thank you' note for a purchase to a discount voucher on your customers birthday or knowing your customers and their preferences should enable you to cater uniquely to their needs.

5. Gather feedback

There are several ways to gather and encourage customer feedback, from the high-tech to the old-fashioned no-tech way. From a suggestion box to a 'Thank You' book, email survey or any other means of communication; whichever way you choose, data and insights are key. This can provide you with critical information about what you are doing right or what you might improve or where you can do better. Gathering feedback is also a way to help build brand equity, with customers feeling their opinion matters.

Fundamentally, it all boils down to communicating with your customers. SMEs should combine standardised policies with reflexivity and empathy to ensure customers feel valued while working to solve any problems respectfully and efficiently. A customer who feels valued is likely to personally recommend your business and' word of mouth' is one of the strongest purchasing drivers among consumers. While the same holds true of big businesses, SMEs are uniquely positioned to create a community of valued customers who will ultimately serve as brand advocates. This will be critical to SMEs longevity – a vital step in building a successful and sustainable business.