SME’s who get it right can punch way above their weight in customer delight
Size isn’t everything in business as in life and there are many ways for your business to achieve success without striving for continual growth and market share. If you look after the most important people — your customers — you’ll tower over the competition whatever their company size and build a loyal customer base that multinationals will envy.
In this article we’ll explore some strategies for doing just this, and proving that small can be not only beautiful — it can be commercially triumphant too.
The long tail of success
The days when you had to grow your business physically to create an effective ecommerce presence are history. You don’t need to be the next Amazon or Walmart to make an impact.
In a digital world, depth is what matters. The more niche the better. Tim Ferriss famously said you can create huge success by delighting 1,000 true fans, so if there are 4.27bn potential customers online, you only need to connect deeply with one 4.27 millionths of them to do this.
The art lies in defining this magical tribe — defining them absolutely and deeply understanding their needs. Showing this understanding in every aspect of your business, from your visual branding to the tone of your messaging to the choices you make about your product details.
It means deliberately failing to connect with and ignoring the vast majority of people who are simply not in your tribe. It can even mean offending or alienating the people who will never be your customers, by authentically aligning with a cause or purpose your tribe holds dear — as a new generation of customers are more likely than ever to choose to do business with brands that share their values in a deeply personal and individual way.
As for the rest, it’s fine if they just don’t ‘get you’, they never will. If you’re going to build niche business success you cannot be vanilla ice cream, that everyone kind-of likes, but nobody raves about. You need to fearlessly and genuinely be pistachio-bubblegum-marmite flavor, to have any chance of cutting through and connecting directly with that passionate pistachio-bubblegum-marmite tribe who will adore you forever and evangelize your uniqueness when they discover you.
Finding your tribe
To serve your unique niche, you must first know them.
You need to understand your typical customers, really define them. Talk to them! Conduct user research and ask them what you’re doing well, what you could do better. Find out how your product fits into their lives, and what drives them.
As a small business, you may not be able to afford to conduct extensive research to develop a glossy deck of marketing persona slides — but that’s OK. You have the advantage of real closeness to your users that the big brands who need external agencies have sacrificed for scale, so use this connection.
Here are some ideas to deepen your connection and get to know your most important stakeholders:
Mine your data
Small means agile and responsive, and you can give yourself an advantage by being a data-driven enterprise. Connect everything — for example, integrate your Ringover business phone system with your customer relationship management (CRM) database so you know exactly who you’re talking to.
If your numbers are large enough despite your business being small (e.g. SaaS downloads), you can mine your data quantitatively too. Visualize your interaction analytics in different ways, and see what stands out — do you have lots of searches for help with a specific aspect of a software product, for example? You might pick up on this more quickly than a larger competitor who resells the same product and go on to create a killer piece of content which solves everyone's problems directly and ends up diverting the big guy’s sales straight to your own website...
Talk and listen
Ask sincerely and honestly for reviews and feedback. Classic metrics like NPS will help you understand big picture trends but individual product reviews will give you greater insight, not only into how your offer is doing but also into who’s buying and what they need.
Listen to your social media too. Again, where small scales are involved, you don’t need to invest in natural language processing AI-driven sentiment analysis tools — just follow the right hashtags, set Google alerts for your products and brand names and see what people are saying about you.
Talk to your customers at any opportunity, online or face to face, and get to know them individually. Not just how they relate to your business but everything else about them, from their demographic background to their passions and ambitions and loves and hates. Bring that avatar to life with rich examples. Whenever you thank them for their business, ask for their feedback too, in open and creative ways.
Celebrate and connect
You can go further than listening, by actively engaging with your tribe on social media.
Share if they tag you, amplify praise — turn a happy customer into a raving fan by showing how they’re wearing your products and using them in the real world. This is a total win-win. Maybe you can profile them on a blog post? And of course shower them with goodies — if they’re your real authentic fan rather than a paid ‘influencer’, the return on investment will be greater in the long run.
Be relatable, humble and real
It’s worth remembering that big brands pay hundreds of thousands to clever social media agencies to help them discover their voice and connect with consumers in a relatable ‘best mates’ tone. Right now there is a faux-battle taking place between a couple of huge UK supermarkets over trademarking of a kid’s cake design of all things, and their Twitter and Insta accounts are cultivating a conversation of memes and hilarity while their lawyers struggle to get taken seriously...
You have a huge advantage here because you can do this for real! Everyone sitting back with popcorn watching the caterpillar cake story play out knows that the global supermarket CEOs aren’t sitting on their phones competitively provoking each other, it’s all for show, because they are vast multinational corporations who will settle out of court once their PR teams have all had their fun.
But when a small business gets into a one-to-one on social, that’s a real story, and not only do people care about the outcome, it’s a great opportunity for your small business to demonstrate its humour, quirks, individualism, and passion — like Cards Against Humanity’s famous ‘glitter escalation’ from a couple of years back.
This is a great example of a small business turning a delivery mistake into a hilarious and memorable over-reaction, but you can embody the humility on a smaller scale by responding to issues directly and publicly, wherever that would be appropriate.
Screwed up? Apologize! Put your hands up and say sorry. Explain, if there’s a backstory, without trying to pass the buck. Offer to make things right, in whatever way seems fair and reasonable — a refund or discount may be more appropriate than a ton of glitter, but as the authentic voice of your small business rather than an external agency you will know instantly what is needed, and you could well come out of the incident looking better than before it happened.
That doesn’t mean being bullied by unreasonable demands and accusations. The customer is sadly not always right, and sometimes they’re not even a customer — lots of small businesses get targeted by ‘influencers’ demanding freebies in exchange for ‘exposure’ for example, and this can easily escalate into threats of negative PR if declined.
Don’t be scared, but keep your dignity, stay professional, and be ready to respond publicly if they get unreasonable… Always in an appropriate way. Once again, these incidents can rally your loyal tribe and become a focus for support, but it’s important to take a breath and count to 10 first — it’s a fine line to tread, and responding angrily can backfire, as some have learned to their cost.
Running a small business is hard work, all-consuming, and deeply personal — but those armies of lawyers and PR agencies that can undermine the authenticity of those big brand communications, also protect them from embarrassment and unprofessional emotional reactions in public. Keep it real, but keep it professional!
Of course you are less likely to have complaints in the first place, if you are careful not over-commit to start with.
Because you’re a niche crafter rather than Amazon, there are things which are simply outside of your control — like delivery times and international customs charges, for example. Being completely upfront about this will stop it coming back to bite you in the first place, and the right people will choose you anyway.
But you can do things Amazon can’t, to delight your customers… such as:
Adding a little extra gift in your deliveries from time to time
Including a handwritten note
Sending your customers a birthday greeting with a discount code
Thanking people personally, when they review or share or support you in some way.
Remember, your CRM is your friend — and as a small business you can use it wisely, being sure to annotate each encounter, keep it up to date manually as well as via automation. Then when your VIP big spender gets in touch, your Ringover integrated business phone system will immediately flag their important status for your prompt attention.
From solopreneur to scaling your way
Of course just because you have decided to go for niche domination instead of world domination doesn’t mean you’ll always be a micro-business!
You can use Ringover’s Interactive Voice Response (IVR) feature to filter inbound calls to ensure your VIP gets the love they deserve, avoids wasting time and allows you to manage incoming calls with ease. Just because the whole team is actually you and your dog, who never picks up anyway, is nobody else’s business.
Once you do start hiring or subcontracting to other humans though, you’ll find that integrated CRM is a goldmine.
Maybe your best customer always dealt directly with you before, but as the CEO you’re no longer handling sales calls personally. That’s OK, provided your new hire has access to their entire conversation and purchase history, and can slot themselves seamlessly into the interaction — without ever once asking your special customer to repeat themselves.
Go beyond customer experience, to be a business of experience
Above all, at a time of great uncertainty in the world in everything from health to economics to jobs, customers are seeking a connection and continuity in their lives.
Small businesses have a real opportunity here to embed customer experience in their DNA and orient their entire existence around customer delight. Recent research by Accenture highlighted a shift towards big brands redefining as a business of experience (BX), and having to reorient themselves around what customers yearn for in 2021 and beyond.
But as a small business you’re already there — you haven’t relegated customer service to a marketing department or team, it’s still at the heart of your orientation and reason for existing. You remember why you exist in the first place, who pays your bills, your salary, and you’re closer to your customers than any big brand who has to employ third parties to bridge that gap.
Following the global health crisis the world is readier than ever for niche, meaningful ecommerce engagements and your small business could not be better poised to carve out your place in it, and differentiate yourself based on genuine and effective customer service.