SMEs have a golden opportunity to delight their customers

Rachel Clacher

September 02, 2013

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Rachel Clacher

If consumers generally do not forgive SMEs for bad customer service, does that mean that they forgive large corporates for the same thing? New research from O2 says that seven out of ten consumers will never forgive a small business for committing the cardinal sin of not responding to their needs. And this is how it should be. Every size business, no matter how big or small, has more information, communication channels, apps, research at their fingertips to use in the battle for customers than ever before. So there is no excuse for not offering great customer service all of the time.

If there’s anyone we should not be forgiving for bad customer service, it’s the large corporates. With their budgets, staff resources and lengthy social responsibility policies, it is not acceptable to have phone systems that deposit you in a voicemail no-man’s land with no way of escape. It is not acceptable for the computer to say no. For me, the glaring evidence of this is the fact that BT, our  biggest supplier, a company that we spend £100,000s with every year, couldn’t even be bothered to give us an account manager.

It is easy to understand where the imperative for most of these sins has come from: in theory good phone systems can save time and money and route callers to the right people, and computer scripts allow us to have plenty of information to hand instantaneously. But to get that imperative right requires one vital element: the human element. If voicemail no-man’s land became a friendly voice reassuring you that they will get the right solution for you, if the computer said: ‘pass this on to Bob who’ll know how to find the answer’, how much happier would us hapless customers be? Lots.

But while some large corporates are waking up to the importance of the human touch, there are still too many with the arrogance to believe that we are privileged to be their customers and that flexing to our needs is below them.

Hopefully, because we will all eventually vote with our feet and take our custom elsewhere (which we have done with BT), these dinosaurs will soon be on the endangered list. However, while they still exist, and think it’s not important that we get lost in voicemail and computer black holes, there’s a real opportunity for SMEs: an opportunity to step up and delight, to be flexible and approachable, and thereby rival larger competitors. Today, and thanks to new technologies, any sized business can offer a world-class front with scalable and effective back office support at a ridiculously affordable cost.

While Moneypenny has been instrumental in that march for the past thirteen years, we are now joined by a host of other new technology businesses – Penelope, Freeagent, Gocardless to name a few – that means that a company can be up and running, with full comms and address, a scalable phone system to rival Citibank, back-office support and time management to rival Deloitte’s, payment facilities as good as any high street store…in minutes…for less than £60 a month.

Outsourcing is something that the large corporates have done for years, and while this is not a word that is familiar to smaller businesses it is something that they are doing instinctively because it means  they can concentrate on what they do best, giving them more ammunition than ever before in the war for customers.

And the greatest thing? That an SME has the agility, drive, commitment and accountability which makes the vital human element easier to deliver. Create the right infrastructure for your business, showcase your business fantastically, put people in touch with people and suddenly the world is full of possibilities…

So let’s not worry about consumers not forgiving SMEs for their bad experiences. We know that anyway. We are all consumers ourselves and love a bit of a grumble. What we love more is to be delighted. The large corporates are failing to do so, so it’s time for smaller business to take advantage of all this new technology on offer, to step up, take the challenge and delight at every turn.

The time to do so has never been better…

Author: Rachel Clacher is the co-founder of Moneypenny, the UK’s leading telephone answering service. In 2000, Rachel and her brother Ed Reeves pooled their convictions about customer service and teamwork – and Moneypenny began. More