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Customer Service...Your Choice for Growth!

small-business-blog-customers-serviceThere's no getting around it. Every company starts out with zero revenue. But, understand, whether you grow to $100,000 in annual revenue or $100 million, is by and large your choice. Now I can already hear the naysayers among you, "But Master Yoda, it's not that simple. Sometimes, the market is against you. Or sometimes you don't have enough capital, blah, blah, blah."

Nope. Usually, what keeps you from growing your business to where you want it to grow comes down to the choices you make in a key area.

Most companies that don't grow very big do so by choice, some conscious, most not. And, make no mistake, big growth is not essential for everyone. Creating a lifestyle business that limits growth to owner-bandwidth or lifestyle factors is a choice. But for this posting, it's the businesses that want to grow but don't, also out of choice, sometimes even subconscious, are what I'm focused on.

Sales is the lifeblood of business growth, but is followed very closely by customer service. Just so we're on the same page, my definition of customer service is building and maintaining customer relationships (the C-R of CRM). It is not just a function, but a culture of making every customer feel like they are your only customer, creating a bond, a long-term relationship, whether they are your biggest or your smallest. Many entrepreneurs will give it "lip service," but, given the economic choice, don't think customer service is THAT important.

If I polled a thousand people in business, and asked what are the two biggest factors in growing a business, sales might get mentioned more than half the time, good product 75-80%, but customer service, actually building and maintaining customer relationships, might not even get 10%. Of course, capital would be right there at the top.  There should be no dispute regarding the importance of top line to every business success. But it is customer service, as defined above, that actually helps fuel sales growth. It is, most often, the prime contact point for customers once the initial sale has been completed, making them feel "loved" by the company through being responsive to their needs, addressing their questions and reacting to their issues, helping create a long-term relationship.

Providing good customer service to existing customers is the major basis for satisfied customers and repeat sales. Satisfied customers create customer references and customer references bring new sales from other new customers. But invariably, the customer service function is overlooked or ignored, or worse, actually de-emphasized, and most often, by choice, often driven, consciously or sub-consciously from previous experience.

Fortunately or unfortunately, we are products of our experience and our environment. Most entrepreneurs had their initial training and exposure to business in large companies. And what has been the most disturbing trend in large companies over the past ten years or so is the outsourcing of customer service. That is, sending a prime customer-facing function to another country that may not even have the same primary language - all in the interest of cost-savings. It is a major example of being penny-wise and pound foolish! Costs much less...and most companies, who've done it, get what they pay for in poor customer service, not realizing how much it is really costing in lost sales.

And so, when the bright young entrepreneur finally ventures out on his/her own, starting up a business, the message remembered is the one delivered to them in their formative business years - customer service is a commodity service where you keep labor costs as low as possible.

I am called in, time and time again, by young companies who had begun growing their top line very nicely, only to have sales stall or worse, just fall off dramatically. And when I dig just a little, typically, I find they've made a bad choice. For reasons they justify as economic, they usually have a customer service function that is so undermanned and overworked that it's almost as bad as having no customer service function at all. Or worse, neither has the function been staffed nor is the culture of customer service anywhere in existence. Once the sale is completed, the customer relationship becomes "catch as catch can." This usually results in a less than happy customer base and a whole bunch of lost opportunity.

Small business owners, as I've already noted in previous blog postings, sales is everybody's job. But to fuel growth, learn to love your customers, creating a bond with them from the CEO right on down to the person who answers the phone. Customer service is also everybody's job. For growth, it's your choice!

"The Entrepreneur's Yoda" knows these things. He's been there. May success be with you!

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