Small Business Customer Experience Often Suffers With Growth
NOTE from Phil: Today’s article is from one of my favorite people, Jeannie Walters. She is a customer experience expert who lives not far from me in Chicago. Her insights always make me think hard about what I’m doing and how I’m doing it for my customers. This article is another example of that.
Running a small business and growing it are two separate ideas, believe it or not. It’s easy to get caught up in the daily business of running the business. Staffing, servicing clients, paying bills, invoicing, banking, scheduling and emptying the trash all require time.
Growing a business means planning ahead and setting a vision. Growing a business means understanding where you want to go first, then working at tasks to make that happen each and every day.
Easier said than done!
When an entrepreneur starts the business, the experience he or she delivers is based on WHO and not what. Joe might sell widgets, but people buy them from his company because of Joe. Joe’s concerned about EVERY customer when he starts, and the customers feel that.
Then size happens. You’re hiring fast. You’re growing with your customer base. And some customers are starting to notice some changes. These customers rarely tell you directly until it’s a problem. Here are a few things they might say:
“I understand they need to put in more layers, but I really liked working directly with Bob/Brenda (CEO). I miss that. We were buddies.”
“You know, our relationship with Theresa (Sales Manager/Account Manager/All-Around-Great-Gal) was so good. It’s hard to move on.”
“I love those guys. I recommend them to everyone. But I’m worried they’re getting TOO big.”
So what do you do as you scale as an organization? First, you need to accept that the scale of cloning you isn’t realistic. Take the time to document and train to the customer experience you want to deliver. Saying “be nice” is not enough. You need to hire, to expand and to serve more customers. But you also need to keep your top people without burning them out.
There are entire books tackling this subject, but I’ll offer one tip to help during those days of growth.
Communicate your mission, vision and brand promise to every employee every day.
I distinguish these this way:
1. Mission – What is your lofty goal as an organization? What’s your cause?
2. Vision – Where is the organization going in the next year to 5 years?
3. Brand Promise – What does your brand promise to your customers? What expectations are made?
This is what so often gets lost in growth. Suddenly, the unwritten rules about how you treat customers, how you treat colleagues, how you get things done and what promises you’re keeping need to be written down. But don’t get hung up on that. Just be sure that the top level is getting the word out to keep talking about these vitally important items. Hire according to them. Create processes around them. Don’t let go of passion for productivity.
There are lots of other things you can do to help with scale.
What would you offer?
About the author: Jeannie Walters is the Chief Customer Experience Investigator™ and founder of 360Connext, a Chicago-based consulting firm specializing in the cornerstones of customer experience: customer engagement, employee engagement and connections like social media. 360Connext serves mid-market companies and larger by helping them evaluate their true customer experience. The evaluations always lead to improvements which then lead to results like increased online conversions or loyalty.