Today I’ve been considering the need for small businesses to add value for their customers in different ways outside of simply fulfilling their orders.

Often, smaller businesses don’t have the scale economies to compete with larger organizations solely on price. The classic example of this situation is Walmart versus the mom and pop brick and mortar’s of yesteryear. The bottom line is that some folks will always gravitate toward the lower price, however a great deal of people do not.

The tough news is that you will simply never beat Walmart on price. The good news is that small businesses do not need to. Your market segment is likely not the customer looking for the absolute lowest price; if it is you won’t be in business for long.

Here are some areas to consider if you’re a small business in terms of adding value outside simply fulfilling an order:

Expertise: The holy grail of why people purchase from places outside big box retail.  EVERY small business needs to be an expert in their trade, they need to understand why different products and services exist and provide that perspective, free of charge, to customers.  My mother and wife both like cameras.  It seems like every year Teresa is finding a new reason to buy a camera, and she goes to National Camera Exchange for this reason. They know their equipment, they know what competitors can offer too, but they specialize well enough to add insight that a big box simply can’t.  You can argue that National Camera Exchange isn’t a small business, however they are fighting the same battles with big boxes. If you’re not already the most knowledgeable person in your community on your trade, there is real value for both you and your customers if you’re willing to put in the work.

Customer Service: Yes, customer service has become a trite aphorism.  “The customer is always right” isn’t right all the time.   But customer service still means a lot to many people.  I’m one of them.  I’ll be happy to pay for great service.  Excellent staff who pay attention to you and take care of your issues quickly win repeat customers.  Bad customer service is almost CERTAIN to drive a business into the ground.  Good customer service pays for itself in spades due to word of mouth and retention.  If you haven’t done so, try calling into your business with an “issue” to be resolved.  Ask yourself a few questions:

1.  Do I feel good about the way this was addressed by the company?
2.  Would I recommend this company to a friend or relative?
3.  How can I improve this?

Now do the same thing for purchasing something new — you’ll likely have to have someone else that people in the business don’t know do it, but have a secret shopper walk through and report what they find.  Does anything stand out?

Personalization: There’s a reason everyone like’s Cheers.  When a small business remembers who you are and what you like, it means a lot.  My Father in law goes to Mexico Lindo in Cloquet, MN quite a bit.  Every time they bring him his favorite beer and a bowl of Chicken Tortilla soup.  He doesn’t even need to order.  THAT wins.  Small business owners may not be able to remember everyone, but they can make the experience of purchasing from them enjoyable enough to tell friends.  Learning about your customers will go a long way for them.  Consider ways to make working with you and your business a closer relationship than simply buyer and seller.

blue fishStand Out From The Crowd: I’ve written about this before, but the beautiful thing about running YOUR business is that YOU CHOOSE everything about it.  Do you want to give away champagne to every customer who walks in?  Cool.  Want to play trance music with a light show at the start of every other hour?  Check.  Want to run an ongoing loop of 80’s rock videos during happy hour?  Rockable.  It’s open season.

This is the most underestimated aspect of owning a business.  If you aren’t afraid to take chances and do things differently such that people are compelled to talk about it, you will get free advertising every day of your life.  Marketers and business owners need to embrace that.  Will you appeal to everyone?  NO!  Appealing to everyone is the kiss of death in business.  It’s not possible.  Instead, you dumb down the product enough that it’s no longer remarkable, no longer worth pointing out because it’s like everything else.  Please, appeal to one person.  Others, just like that person, will find you too.

Industry Advocacy and Caring. I struggle to explain this concept to people because you can’t just tell someone to care.  They either do or they don’t.  The absolute worst customer experiences come from businesses trying to squeeze every penny out of the P&L.  Businesses need profits, but they can’t come at the cost of experiences from customers.  You have to be able to build a model that allows for everyone to get value out of the process.

Businesses that are run by people who advocate for the industry and lead their communities are going to prosper.  There are many ways to grow businesses, some of them are by taking business from competitors, others are by expanding the amount of people who actually use that type of product or service.  When you expand the pie through advocacy you have a much better chance of acquiring that business from customers as you are leading and therefore prominently seen within the community.  Tangible examples of this type of leadership is usually found in the form of community service, volunteering and organization of events.  It’s a lot of fun to do these things too, BTW.

Smaller businesses usually do not have the financial resources of big companies, but they do have the ability to be nimble and conduct business in ways the big guys are afraid to try.  The key is to engineer your business or product in a way that people will want to try because it’s different, worth while and come back to due to quality.