Big chains may be able to offer cheaper products, but small businesses have the edge when it comes to embracing simplicity to ensure repeat customers and happy suppliers.
It’s the simple, personal touches that reach beyond the price point and ensure customers choose smaller businesses. In an increasingly impersonal world, creating a unique connection with your clients and suppliers is the key to repeat business and growth.
Here, three small business owners divulge the simple things they do to please customers and other businesses alike.
Andrew Gray has supplied restaurants, cafes, butchers and food retailers for more than 15 years with high-end gourmet and pantry items through his Melbourne-based firm, Raw Materials.
Now with 40 staff, 4,000 customers in Australia and overseas, the company has a reputation for high levels of service and quality goods sourced from all over the world.
Completely understand their needs
Gray says his clients appreciate personalised service by his team, and the efforts they go to in order to ensure dealing with Raw Materials is stress-free. As an example, his team makes sure they deliver orders to customers on quiet days when they have time to stock the shelves and not shove it out the back because they are too busy to deal with deliveries.
It shows that Raw Materials knows and cares about their business, but also allows their product to be on display for customers for longer periods. “Understanding their pressure points and what makes it really easy for them to do business is so important,” he says. “You want to make sure that customer is a fan and a supporter of you.”
Ordering should be a breeze
Customers can order via the website, through a visiting sales rep who logs the orders via an iPad that connects immediately with the company’s warehouse, by fax for old-school customers and by phone – and Gray’s team knows exactly how each client wants to do it.
“We want to make things as easy as possible so at our very first meeting we ask who does the ordering, what days they work, what is the best time to call and how they like to order – on the website, via fax or would he like a personal phone call?” says Gray. All orders are shipped immediately according to the team’s ‘catch and throw’ philosophy.
Make payments easy for customers and other businesses
In line with his philosophy to fit in with his customers’ needs, Gray takes payment in many forms – via credit card (sans fees as a concession to his many small business clients), contactless payments, invoice for online orders and even cheque in the mail from some old his old fruiterer clients.
With almost 4,000 customers, he says you need to make the whole process as seamless as possible so SME owners can get on with their operations.
“The value in having a great system is that customers say ‘where have you been all my life’ and it also frees you up as a business owner,” he says.
Small businesses should also be aware that consumer demands are changing rapidly and increasingly cashless transactions are the norm. Fast payments now enable businesses to send and receive payments quickly, with funds generally transferred between participating banks in under 60 seconds, around the clock. And using a PayID makes it easier to receive fast payments. Your PayID can be your business mobile number, email address or ABN, so there’s no need to remember BSB and account numbers, making it simpler for others to pay you.
Make them feel valued and important
Kyla Kirkpatrick left a career in financial services to become an expert in champagne, and is now CEO and founder of The Champagne Dame which hosts 100 Champagne masterclasses and events annually. Seeing a gap in the market for champagne lovers to buy smaller brands, she started online sales platform Emperor Champagne.
Kirkpatrick says from the outset client satisfaction was paramount to her success. “Clients want to feel connected to the business and this is particularly important in my line of work as a Champagne educator and presenter,” she says. “Clients value personalisation – it makes them feel they are valued and important.”
Kirkpatrick maintains a database of her customers so that she can personalise her marketing. As an online business it’s easy for Emperor to add these personal touches. Each order includes a personalised note and a thank you card. Sometimes she will even send a gift such as crystal flutes or a champagne book.
Here are some of the ways she builds a rapport with clients. Kirkpatrick includes a phone number on her websites and all marketing material so customers can easily get in touch. She is also a big advocate of picking up the phone to chat with them about their experience with her store or event. “A phone call is usually unexpected which makes it even more valuable for connecting with customers,” she says.
“I don’t care how big you get – giving without expectation and without condition is a wonderful thing to do,” she says.
Foster a community with your customers and suppliers
As an events company, connecting with customers through face-to-face contact is easy, but when her client list grew, Kirkpatrick began to foster communities between clients, too. The launch of her Champagne Club allowed her to deliver videos each month and create forums so clients could create a community.
“This makes people feel part of a family and is great for client retention,” she says.
Stay in touch
Alicja Lawler’s bespoke jewellery business, Laced with Kindness, makes pieces for women with crystals and patron saints, sought for many centuries to help with various causes. Her jewellery is inherently spiritual and personal. “Sometimes we don’t have the right words during hard times, but a small gift can bring a smile to someone’s face through a simple act of kindness,” she says.
Each piece of Laced with Kindness jewellery comes hand-wrapped in tissue paper with lace and a motivational card. But Lawler also includes a special meaning card of the saint and crystal chosen. “Customers love reading these, especially when it’s given as a gift,” she says. “It shows someone has gone to great lengths to choose something especially for them.”
As an online business, Lawler works with clients over email and social media messaging to get the piece right, whether it is for themselves or a gift. She is also ever-present on social media and asks customers for feedback through videos or polls. Lawler says social media also has brilliant targeting methods so she can identify who would be potential customers based on their interests and preferences.
*Fast payments and PayID are available within a class of products issued by National Australia Bank Ltd ABN 12 004 044 937 AFSL 230686 (NAB). Any advice contained in this article has been prepared without taking into account your objectives, financial situation or needs. Before acting on any advice in this article, NAB recommends that you consider whether it is appropriate for your circumstances and that you review the relevant Product Disclosure Statement or Terms and Conditions.
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