That small company vibe when you are a growing company: keeping it personal.

It’s tough out there at the moment for businesses, but as life gets back to ‘normal’ there is plenty to learn from how businesses have performed. I have had two experiences in the last two weeks buying products online that I would normally have gone into a shop to buy. And I think they are worth sharing with you.

The first was some flat-pack kitchen furniture and a couple of cheap double beds; the second was some cheap flooring – this is the exciting life I lead.

No guesses where the furniture came from, but they are a big company. The flooring came from a much smaller business, although clearly still sizeable enough to offer a nationwide delivery service and massive range of product options.

With the kitchen, the online experience up to the ordering stage was actually better than I was expecting, with a great design tool, easy ordering and quick and easy payment. At that point I realised I had only bought one bed (not two); no problem, I thought, I will use the help system to make a change to the order.

This is where it goes crazy. I won’t go into the full story but it is one you will have heard before involving automated systems not giving you the correct information, and AI bots taking you round in circles. Frustrating.

I finally got through to a human who was clearly being blocked by their own automated systems – who spent their time telling me why I was wrong in ordering in that way, that the system was telling them it was too late to change and that my only option was to order a second delivery for an item that cost less than the delivery charge – needless to say, I am one bed down on my order.

The flooring, on the other hand, was a totally different experience. Given the current situation they clearly have a shortage of some stock, and it was a little tough to find what was available and when it would arrive. However they had a chat service – I was able to speak with a lovely lady who immediately understood the problem, found out what I needed, offered some options and helped me order it (all the while apologising because she wasn’t used to the laptop she was given to enable her to work from home). It felt like she had all the time in the world, even though it was evident from our conversation that she had been in back-to-back calls to help her customers find what they need.

Even though the flooring company wasn’t small and was having problems with their normal processes, it felt like they were still small enough to be able to have a personal relationship with you when the automated systems let them (and you) down.

But people are expensive, and this is why in many cases larger companies focus on putting in automated systems to manage the whole customer engagement. This means the number of agents you need to service your customers can be kept to the minimum as the overall number of customers grows.

This isn’t wrong – clearly all businesses need to keep costs at an appropriate level and using automated systems and AI augmented services can actually make the customer experience better if it’s done effectively.

The businesses that do this well implement technology to make things easier for their customers to get the service or products they need, not so the company can reduce the number of people they have or reduce call wait times, average handle times and all those other process driven metrics – but, like the flooring company who added a chat service and gave technology and resources to their teams, who can in turn help their customers to find what they need.

Those same businesses have never lost sight of what was important to them when they were small and have always found innovative and cost-effective ways to excite and delight their customers while keeping it ‘personal’.

Sadly, the majority of early growth companies don’t realise that the methods that worked for them when they were small, and the expectations their customers have, will change as the company grows. Their growth can mean they have too many customers to be able to service them through their original service desk and processes, and they react by using technology to fill the gaps and they often focus on throughput, not satisfaction.

That is why it is never too early (or too late) to establish a customer framework that can help inform and validate the technologies the business needs as they grow.

I get that small businesses don’t ‘need’ a customer framework or strategy – everybody who works there probably knows all of their customers personally. But that is exactly why it is so important; because understanding your customer, and then building and reviewing the strategy as you grow, keeps you ahead of the curve. You are acting on - not reacting to - changes in what your customers want and need from you.

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