In the past year, we launched a retail site The Complete Bear. We wanted to see if we could take our own advice. Sometimes we do, and sometimes we don’t . . .
This experience has provided amazing insights into trying to grow a business. By going piece by piece through the business development process, we are able to provide real life experience to our consulting clients.
It has always been our belief that one of the key advantages of smaller businesses is their ability to respond to their customer base. Without the myriad of levels of management, customers speak with decision makers and develop “relationships” with the owners. We have a few vendors who are just amazing – both big and small. We use Yahoo! Small Business couldn’t be more pleased. When we have a question or concern – we are able to get a knowledgeable support person on the phone and they walk us through a solution. Irene over at Big Sky Carvers is a godsend. She answers the phone, she returns calls, and she is knowledgeable about the products.
But to our surprise, a lot of folks seem to go out of their way to lose our business. While I understand we are not the biggest account to come in the door – you never know where we will be in a few years.
At the recent SF Gift Show, a national account manager spent more time bad mouthing her company than selling us product. We subsequently contacted the owner of the company, who was very nice and responsive, but told us “Oh yea, she’s a bit of a problem, no one likes to work the booth with her . . .” Are you kidding me?
Another vendor referred us to their local rep. The woman came to our offices, was pleasant enough, and we placed an order. In placing the order we discussed the fact that we had a large show coming up and were assured we would have the product in plenty of time. As the show loomed, we called the rep voicing concern over having not yet received the shipment. No response. The shipment eventually arrived three weeks after our event. It had been mailed 3 days earlier.
We sought out another vendor, because we were impressed with their product line. Once again, we were referred to the local rep. We placed an order; it arrived and was not what we ordered. We called our rep, we were told it would be resolved, a replacement shipment was sent, once again wrong. Once again, we called our rep, he asked, “Can’t you just sell what we sent you?” Actually, I would prefer to sell what I ordered, thank you.
I am sure I am preaching to choir of retailers. But as so many start ups struggle to grow their businesses and woo customers – I am once again convinced that a little genuine customer service separates you from the pack. Secondly, what do your customer’s experience? Ask a friend to attend a trade show, and interact with your reps. What was the experience like? Call a customer who has stopped placing orders and ask why. You may have lost that customer, but you may get some insights before you loose the next one. It’s just a thought.