21st April, 2015
I benefit from being in a small business networking group made up of mostly service-orientated businesses. It has become very clear which ones work like a well-oiled machine and which are struggling. It’s difficult to identify what led to those outcomes, but here are some of the common traits that I notice in the successful service businesses.
Most of the successful firms have very well established service offerings, but more importantly, it’s not just marketing — they follow through on whatever they promise with every new client. For example, there’s the kitchen firm, offering a totally bespoke service experience to provide the customer with a kitchen to suit their personal cooking, dining and entertainment needs — not just a design out of a piece of fancy software. They actually visit your home and look at how you use your existing kitchen and personalise the new one to make your time in the kitchen much better. Likewise, the accounting firm that promises to guide small business clients through the red tape provides great guides and checklists, as well as calendar reminders for all their clients. The checklists are already ticked where information is available directly to the accountant from third party sources, avoiding duplication. It’s not enough to say you will provide a service; you and all your staff have to live up to that promise.
Many thriving service businesses, no matter the size, have a proactive leader who instils his or her vision during hands-on training, especially before any work is delegated. The only way to guarantee your service offer is maintained is to teach your staff the need for attention to detail and how it adds to the business success. I have also seen how many growing business suffer from poor leadership, where an owner’s disdain for minor jobs is passed on to the staff, which leads to poor customer experience. Appointments are missed, follows-ups forgotten, and feedback ignored, resulting in a poor reputation.
One firm I deal with has a very strong team-building attitude. They have regular meetings, both inside and outside the office, to discuss their systems and procedures in order to improve the firm’s bottom line and ensure all these changes improve the customer experience. Everyone’s input is sought and appreciated, as often they find it is the small things that make the biggest difference to the customers. Think of how many of your friends and family complain about the culture in their workplace and what that does for your opinion of that firm. Now think how positive it is to hear someone being openly appreciative and positive about their work place. Chalk and cheese!
A strong culture will only survive if the whole team is on-board and supportive. What is immediately noticeable after a few visits and calls to these successful firms is the “can do” attitude from reception to the principals. When people take positive ownership of your query in the name of their firm and follow through with enthusiasm you cannot help but want to thank them and promote their services. A successful lawyer warned me of disengaged receptionists and how they can do a lot of damage to a business, as they often are first to hear feedback and concerns, which if not addressed, blow up into bigger worries too late for management to minimise the blowout.
The services firms that are thriving seem to have a steady flow of new work and little or no need for major marketing. Their staff, clients and suppliers become their best sources of business through referrals and testimonials, as they leverage off social media via Facebook, Twitter and other sites to spread the word of their top class offering via community spirit. In this day and age, we all distrust advertising, which means word of mouth referrals are worth gold. When staff are proud of where they work and clients appreciate the service they receive, they will openly talk about it to others.
So lead from the front, engage with staff and customers, and always deliver on your promises. Promote pride in what you do, and that will take you a long way towards success.