Growing Your Business by Acting Small I -- External

An image of a young echidna in a suit sharing insight with a big-business, older echidna.

Want to better connect with your customers? Solve challenges for your business? Create an environment for generating outstanding ideas? Whether you’re a company of three or three thousand, big success can come from thinking small.

On Friday, U.S. President Barack Obama proclaimed this week National Small Business Week*. In his proclamation he said, “America’s small businesses reflect the best of who we are as a Nation – daring and innovative, courageous and hopeful, always working hard and looking ahead for that next great idea…”

To appropriate (and paraphrase) a quote from Douglas Adams, we all want businesses that look like a fish and move like a fish. But all too often, when it comes to innovation and flexibility, those same businesses steer like a cow.

As we grow in size, the ability to generate an ever-increasing number of bright and innovative ideas grows in inverse proportion to the ability to actually get them to the ‘right’ people – much less actually implement them.

As companies get larger, they can fall into the trap of creating silos where one department or team works almost independently of the other. It can work, but it can also create redundancy and duplication of effort, models and practices that actually impede another team’s work, and inefficiency.

Small companies don’t have that luxury. Everyone needs to be a part of everything to get the job done. Knowing everything about the business wasn’t a bonus – it was an absolute necessity. There’s a reason why so many long-term employees of startups, once they reach a certain critical mass, start reflecting upon the “good ol’ days.”

 By thinking small and repurposing those small-business practices, companies  small, medium, and large can reclaim those good ol’ days and can help solve a lot of business challenges.

 This is the first of a two-part series. Today, we share how thinking ‘small’ can help your external and customer-service efforts.

Improve Customer Service

Integrating your customer service teams into the business as a whole can help. Nothing’s more frustrating for your CSR than receiving a call from an irate customer about a marketing promotion that your marketing and communications’ staff neglected to pass along. Whether it’s including CSRs in team meetings, having regular ‘town-hall’ type gatherings, or improving an Intranet or internal newsletter, a little effort can go a long way.

Not only will you have a happy and engaged CSR, but you’ll also have one who is informed (and, hopefully, empowered) enough to resolve customer issues on the spot. That translates into happy customers and, hopefully, brand advocates.

Improve Social Efforts

One of the greatest failures seen in corporate social media efforts is that the person (or people) responsible for managing these on-line presences are sometimes totally disconnected from the company as a whole. When it’s a business of three or four people, it’s easy for your Facebook persona or Twitter feed to share stories about the business, but it’s when you have a disconnected social team that you run into those nonsensical, “Hey, nice weather, eh?” or “It’s Monday! Tell us what your favourite cures for the Monday blahs are…” posts.

An engaged, informed, and – preferably – embedded social team can share so much more about your corporate culture. It helps to foster an on-line presence that’s both honest and informed.

Let’s face it – there are a billion and one social media options out there. If you sound like everyone else (or, worse, if you sound like someone’s Social Media Guru-Speak 101 textbook), people are going to tune you out. But if you keep your communications’ teams separate from the movers, shakers, do-ers, and makers then you leave them no choice but to fall back on generic posts.

Instead of forcing – unintentionally – your staff to write social content that could appear on any other company’s (in any other field) Facebook page or Twitter feed, why not free them to learn and share what makes your company special.

There are a couple of ways to do it: you can spread out your social efforts throughout the teams (why not have a line worker Tweet from time to time, or write a blog?); you can invite communications team members into departmental meetings to see what’s going on; and you can encourage your social custodians to interact with various departments.

Like customer service, it makes your social teams more informed, more flexible, and more responsive to your fans and followers’ needs and interests.

You want your social efforts to help your customers – and potential customers – get to know you. So shouldn’t your social team know who and what you are?

Improve Market Awareness and Flexibility

Your external-facing efforts are a great – and relatively inexpensive – way to gain access to a wealth of valuable business information. From customer service interactions to on-line commentary and monitoring, your CSRs and social staff are a ready-made focus group to gather and gauge information about your company, your branding, and your product.

And bad commentary is just as valuable – or more so – than positive.

It’s also easier to get. Ask your CSRs.

Putting in place a process by which your externally facing employees are able to quickly and easily compile the feedback they receive and have it be seen by upper management (or other decision makers) is a great starting point. Actually having those people read – and, better yet, act upon it is even better.

There’s only one thing worse than doing a survey to find out why people are no longer shopping with you and dismissing the results outright. And that’s expecting people to take the time to fill out the survey with absolutely no intention of respecting their responses.

Obviously you don’t want to make major decisions based on one or two outraged customers, but if you notice a trend it can help you identify it and make some reparations. After all, for every customer with an expressed complaint, there are likely dozens more who have experienced the same thing – and instead of complaining they’ve just stopped showing up.

Tomorrow, we look at how thinking and acting small can help you improve your internal business practices and foster successful growth and productivity. And, as always, your comments are welcome.

*Yes, ours in Canada falls in October, but who am I to ignore when inspiration strikes?

 

Questions Answered

What lessons can I learn from small business?

How do I improve my corporate messaging?

How do I improve my social media efforts?

How can I integrate customer service and communications with my operations as a whole?

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