One of the problems that many small businesses and start-ups face is customer outreach. Small businesses are trying to reach out and build an audience, but they first have to convince that audience that they are capable of providing the same level of service as any larger or more mature company in their industry.
As a child, I remember that sensation of standing on the tile floor of my kitchen, looking up at the countertops. I would stand on tiptoe and stretch my arms up, grasping at lower cabinet knobs and the smooth granite tabletop, my sneakers scraping and squeaking against the wooden drawers. I was trying to reach all the things on top of the counter: the fruit bowl, the cookie jar, the telephone; all the numerous fun things I imagined up there, but could barely see from my vantage point. The kitchen counter was full of limitless possibility. But, I wasn’t tall enough. So how could I reach?
If I asked my mother, she could give me what I wanted. Or, I could find a stepping stool or stack a pile of cookbooks. It would take me years to grow on my own, but if I had something to stand on, I could make myself tall enough to reach.
In order to get up to that “kitchen counter” of customer reach, small businesses and contact/call centers need to find stepping stools to make them stand tall. Here are six ways to reach up and out.
1. Cover Your Bases
By establishing a contact center for your small business, you have made a great start. Excellent customer service is one of the most important aspects of business, as I have already discussed here and here. Providing customers with easy and varied means of contacting you shows off great customer service and leaves that customer with the best experience.
When a customer calls your business, they want to know that they will reach and connect with your company. They may be looking for user help, looking to place a complaint or leave a compliment, or merely seeking more information on your company. The person who answers the phone should be friendly, knowledgeable, and willing to assist. That is the customer’s only concern.
The customer has no way of knowing how many people you have on your end available for their call. So, even if you have only two or three seats (agents) in your call center, they only know that the person they are speaking to connected to them personally. You can have a small contact center with customer contact capabilities equal to that of a 200-seat call center, you just need the software solution with the scalability to do it.
2. Hire the Best
Operations for your small business have to run smoothly with as few employees as possible. This might mean that some employees have to take on multiple roles, such as accounting and HR, or shipping logistics and customer service. You might be tempted to hire employees with less experience in order to cut back on costs.
Do not do this.
In order to be the best and grow as a company, it is better to hire select professionals with a real understanding of what they are doing. The best have a working knowledge and up-to-date experience in the industry. It might be difficult to persuade them from the cushy support of a full-size company, but the recent recession has left a number of qualified individuals looking for work. Snatch them up while they’re in between jobs by showing them your big picture creative vision (as well as a detailed plan of action) and ply them with promises of future growth. Be sure to deliver on your end, though, especially when the incentive you provide is belief in your vision and not necessarily monetary.
3. Supplement with Free Labor
Since your hiring budget has gone to finding the best of the best, you should look to supplement that with free or cheap labor. Namely, interns.
There are thousands of college students and recent graduates looking for industry experience and willing to work for free or for a small stipend for it. It’s a win-win situation. You find the help you need without blowing through huge amounts of capital, and you are helping them by providing recommendations and industry experience that has real value when it comes time for them to find a full-time industry job. And, it gives you the opportunity to mould the perfect employee from the ground up, so that when you find you need to fill a position internally, you have a selection of proven and qualified candidates.
4. Internet Presence
One of the best ways to get your small business’s name out to potential customers is to have an engaging internet presence. On the internet, you can have a huge presence without needing to be a huge company.
An internet marketing strategy is key. Pick two or three of the best social media sites to reach out and engage your customers. Make sure you update regularly and post content that is interesting, informative, and engaging. LinkedIn is great for B2B connections. Pinterest works wonders for creative industries like fashion, home, and retail. Facebook is the best way to engage customers on a personal level. Twitter provides instant updates and is a good way to promote your blog. Make sure that all your content is easily shareable between the social media sites, and that all content links back to your webpage.
Speaking of webpages, one of the best ways to stand tall as a small business is to make sure that your website is in a clean, accessible format, and chockfull of content. An updated and fully interactive website is the best way for customers to find you. Make them want to find out about you and contact you.
Invest in SEO. Whether through a marketing firm or the efforts of your own team to produce searchable keywords and provide active links across the web, you need to be visible for potential customers to find you. ‘Nuff said.
A large internet presence makes it easy for potential customers to find you.
5. Partnering with the Big Ones
If you can say that you are partners with well-known established companies, or that they use your product or service, it lends credibility to you and conveys a sense that your company is large and well-connected.
Additionally, using established platforms and solutions to provide your product or service means that you don’t have to invest a huge amount in operations, staffing, and physical infrastructure. Hosting your call or contact center from a cloud-based platform means you don’t have to buy into the infrastructure or software updates.
The right platform should be inclusive with pricing and features, as well as being scalable with no minimum seats. Meaning, if you start small, a cloud-based platform can accommodate you at your current budget constraints and continue to grow with your company as your reach expands and your customer base grows. In particular, look into companies that host through a public cloud like Amazon Web Services (AWS).
6. Transparency (or Lack Thereof)
If you are small business, you want your public presence in the internet and throughout your industry to be honest and clear. Be transparent about the way your product or service will work, your pricing, and your relationships with current customers.
However, it is okay to be more opaque about the size of your company. As long as you can deliver your products and services the way that you promise to in your advertisements and web content, then you do not necessarily need to disclose to the public information about the size of your company.
The best way to stand tall as a small business is to seem like you are a large business.
Confession: I never ended up growing taller than 5’2”.
But you know what? That’s what high heels are for. And you would never know my real height unless you were standing next to me. When I enter a room, or write a blog, my voice and my presence help me stand tall. A business does not have to be large to be successful. As a matter of fact, staying small may be the best idea, depending on the type of business you are.
Ultimately, it is about what you have to offer. The best way to grow your customer base is to provide a product or service that is fantastic and has advantages over similar products, because the most successful marketing is word of mouth. This list is meant to help you reach customers by merit of your amazing product or service, without being judged by the size of your business. These are your ladders and stepping stools.