If you’re a small business owner or consumer who’s ever dealt with a large corporation—and who hasn’t?—you’ve probably encountered policies, procedures, or attitudes that drive you crazy. You wonder how these big companies manage to stay in business, let alone keep customers. Well, they can afford to lose customers. You, as a small business owner, can’t.
But you can learn from these big business blunders. Here are eight things small businesses should never do like the big guys:
- Treat the customer like the enemy. Have you ever called a large corporation to question your bill, challenge the quality of a product or service, or make a request? You’re often told something like: “It’s your fault this happened.” Big companies often blame customers for the company’s mistakes or act like customers are bothering them. Small businesses need to value customers and provide great service.
- Shuffle customers through endless voicemail systems. This drives everyone nuts. Some companies make it almost impossible to speak with a human, making you navigate through a voicemail minefield or put you in ‘on hold’ purgatory while listening to the worst music ever composed. If customers call your small business, gratefully pick up the phone.
- Take two years to get a new product or service out the door. What’s taking you so long? If you’re creating ground-breaking heart medications, of course it’s going to take a long time to get it right. But for the kinds of products or services small businesses make, you’re far better to get it out the door and improve it as you learn from real customers. Don’t dawdle.
- Take forever to resolve problems. The other day, my friend told me she stopped shopping at a large department store because it took over seven months to straighten out mistaken charges on her credit card bill. It took me over half a year to settle with my auto insurance company when someone totaled my car. In big companies, there’s lots of reasons for this—internal procedures, overburdened employees, policies intentionally designed to frustrate customers so they’ll give up. But there’s no excuse in a small business. Resolve issues and get on with building your business.
- Make customers change passwords every 30 days. Yes, cyber security is crucial and continues to be a hot topic. But nothing frustrates customers more than making it difficult for them to log on to their accounts or buy from you. Don’t make them change their 32-digit, non-repeating, gazillion-rule passwords every month. They may have to do this with their bank, but they’ll give up on you.
- Have supervisors, managers, directors, vice presidents, senior vice presidents, executive vice presidents. In big corporations, you’ll find layer upon layer of managers and supervisors and not enough people actually doing the real work. In a small business, every employee must pull their own weight and too many managers just get in the way.
- Treat employees like “resources.” Most big companies have “human resources” departments and treat employees as a necessary evil. When times are tough, these “resources” are numbers to be slashed from an Income Statement. Small business owners need to recognize their employees are the life blood of their businesses, often the face of their company to customers. Take a lesson from Southwest Airlines which has a “Vice President of People,” whose job it is to create a culture where all employees are valued and important events in employees’ lives are acknowledged.
- Create a bunch of rules to protect you from one bad apple. Big corporations feel they need a huge rulebook of policies to protect themselves from the one or two inevitable bad employees. But these kind of nit-picky rules frustrate the best, most trustworthy, employees. Overly-strict rules in a small business are time-wasters, costly, silly, and de-motivating. Create an atmosphere where your best employees can do their best. Allow your employees to have authority as well as responsibility, giving them the ability to make decisions—even if they have to learn from their mistakes (and yes, you’ll sometimes pay for that). The department store Nordstrom empowers front-line employees to make decisions, just requiring them, in the most important line in the company, to “Use Good Judgment in All Situations.”
Copyright, Rhonda Abrams, 2017
This article originally ran in USA Today on August 23, 2017