I believe taking care of customers is paramount to the success and sustenence of your business. In a way, entrepreneurs and small business have a better edge at this due to the more personalised approach that they follow. And I’ve seen small business that consistently take care of their clients and always keep that ‘personalised touch’ will always keep their customers coming back and always get good referrals.
Unfortunately bigger corporations are no longer focused and do not plan products with their customers in mind. Most of the time, they plan products for their stakeholders in mind – products that will help them reap maximum benefits. Employees who want to champion the needs of the customers are often ignored by management. What most people may not realise is that customers are growing smarter and smarter. They can discern what is right and what is wrong and there are many options in the market to choose from. No matter how good or reputable a company is, once the focus is to drive in profits and less emphasis is placed on service, it is only a matter of time before they drive their customers to their competitors. It is made worse if key decision makers in the company were to think that they are invincible and take their customers’ loyalty for granted.
Let me elaborate further on what I mean by using my optometrist as an example:
My optometrist was recommended by a good friend of mine who kept praising her good qualities. My friend came to know about her also through someone else’s recommendation. In fact, many of her colleagues go to this optometrist. So about 5years ago, I decided to visit the optometrist when my brother needed a set of new glasses. I find her service very commendable- she really has the personal touch. When I quote my friend’s name, she can remember- ‘oh, it’s Rosalind from XXX company, right? Yes, she used to come to my shop when she was working nearby with her friends. But I have not seen her since last year. How is she?’
She took time to examine the eye, first using the special examination machine and then with the manual testing- just to make sure the readings were correct. If the power had increased, she tactfully broke the news. If the power had reduced, she is overjoyed and cannot wait to relay it to her client, congratulating them.
She normally have an assistant to help take the manual eye test. While waiting for the results of the eye test, she will also show attention to the family members. If she noticed that their spectacles seemed foggy, she will offer to wash -I am not sure what type of equipment- it looked like a centrafuge or something with water in it. But the lens are really clean after washing them. You know, some people do not have a habit of cleaning their specs and sometimes, green stuff, grease and dirt tend to accumulate in the corners- she never even display the slightest look of disgust- she help to clean the specs. And the customer’s family did not even purchase that specs from her in the first place! She always replace missing/loose spectacle screws (those that hold the specs at the bridge of the nose) for the clients free of charge- even though the specs was not bought from her place.
Then when it comes to selection of spectacles, she will check on our budget and the style that we like. She will then make recommendation of the best eye wear- most of the time, we will be very happy with her selection. She seemed to know what type of spectacle frame suits what type of face type. Whether a person can afford a Dior frame costing nearly RM1000 or just a budget frame costing RM100, the personalised attention you get from her is the same. You may know how it is when a person chooses a frame- they probably look at 10 or 20 frames before they make their decision- and if she feels frustrated with the client, she never showed it.
Her prices are reasonable- we do not find the specs too expensive for the quality that we pay for. And when you collect your frame, she will have you put on, see carefully and adjust again and again to make sure you are comfortable. Then when you go back a few months or a year later to get another frame, she still remember you.
Each time I go to her shop, there are always customers there. It’s not that her shop is located at high traffic area. Instead, it is located on the 3rd floor of an obscure mall that sees little traffic. So how did you think she got and keep her client? Word of mouth brought most clients there and the personalised service keeps the client going back and recommending their friends.
And she has the amazing skill of juggling her clients- she is fair and abide by first come first serve rule- she will serve the first customer that walks in and flash her smile to the second customer to ask them to wait. She will not ignore the first client even though the second client is a Datuk or some big shot. Most customers like us do not mind waiting- we find that it’s always worth the wait for that exceptional service that we will get later. And she will also turn to us and apologise again if the wait is taking too long.
Even though there are other optical shops within walking distance from my house, I will still choose to drive and pay for the parking in the mall to go to her shop. You know how it is that optical chains tend to offer huge discounts- but I never went to any of these shops, neither am I interested to know their offers. After all, my family members don’t need a pair of glasses often so it is ok to pay slightly more for that personalised service. It has been 5 years and I send all my family members to her shop to make glasses- and I also never hesitate to recommend her shop to friends who I know is intending to get a pair of glasses.
Every year without fail, she will also mail me a Chinese New Year card that is signed by her personally. This, along with other personal touches is what that will make the client remember you and keep coming back.
Nowadays, many big companies seemed to be involved in price wars- all are competing to win over as many clients as possible. The price is lowered in order to attract as many customers as possible but once you lower the price too much, the service inevitably suffers. This is because more service means more costs and with price wars, companies cannot afford to pay more to provide service. Small business can succeed even though they may not offer the product/service at the lowest price- but their service/additional fringe benefits/ personal touch must stand out against the bigger players.
I know many small time entrepreneur started off wanting to offer good service but after a while, their desire to earn more money comes in and they started pushing goods/services to their clients face. Each time the client walks in to the shop to buy something (probably inexpensive), they will start bugging the client to buy a new but more expensive product that is very good, blah blah blah. I can guarantee that at most after 2 times, you will never see the client’s face again if you keep pushing products to him
/her. No one wanted to feel as though that the only reason the owner is happy to see them is because they can buy more products. Yes, granted- earning profit is crucial – a business still need to sell product/service in order to survive. But you really have to balance with interpersonal skills- never make the customer feel as though they are your cash cow. You also need to understand the needs of your customers and target market and offer them a product that they will need and benefit from. This comes from listening to the customers and spending some time with them as well as constantly putting yourself in their shoes.
But I’ve been a client of my optometrist for 5 years and she had always been the same from the first day I knew her. She is not the only small business entrepreneur that I am loyal too. Even for my home electrical products, I always buy from a particular store because the owner is knowledgeable about electrical products and is able to answer my questions well. He truthfully explain the benefits and features of different brands. He never recommend the most expensive item for me if it is not suitable to my needs.
Even though I know if I buy same items from Carrefour, I can opt for no interest easy payment plans, I will rather buy from my regular shop by either paying cash lump sum or using credit card without installment plan. And the owner carefully explained to me that if I use credit card, he had to charge me extra 2% because he is already selling the items at a reasonable price. If he accepts credit card, his profit margin will be very low because he have to pay a fraction of the selling price to his acquirer bank. I didn’t mind because to be honest, after calculation, I know that his selling price is few hundred ringgit lower than Carrefour. At the designated time, his workers arrived and deliver the items to my house- and cart away my old fridge without any complain. When an oven that I brought from him seemed to have problems, I took it back and he examined it and say there is something wrong and that he will send it back to the manufacturer- he did not attempt to cover up. Or show irritation that I have to trouble him with a small oven. He had told me before selling any items to me that if there are any problems, I can always bring it back to his shop. And he is true to his word.
Therefore, you can understand by now, what made me choose services from small business as opposed to the big players. It’s the same practice I have when it comes to the shop to service my car and the pharmacy that I go to.
Customers are actually very intelligent people. Most of them can see through a fake, a braggart and insincere people in an instant. To win over the customers, as a small business owner, you will need to consistently display that personal touch and take care of your customers. Listen to what your customers have to say. And when you are successful, don’t let your ego take over as ‘pride will always go before a fall.’