Daniel Newman
February 3, 2016

Customer Relationships: The Key to Small Business Success

One of the key ways a small business can both differentiate themselves and also gain a competitive advantage over bigger businesses is relatively simple—providing great customer service. And that doesn’t have to be complicated. The reality is that what customers want is pretty simple: They want to be heard, they want their issues understood, and they want their questions answered quickly, preferably on first contact.

A recent study by Verint Systems bears this out. The study, The New Rules of Customer Engagement, questioned more than 18,000 adults worldwide to find out more about their customer service expectations and experiences. The results revealed key findings in three main areas (percentages based on the U.S.). Let’s take a look.

Resolution More Important Than Relationship

For the vast majority of respondents, all they really want is to have their questions answered. Despite the clamoring from brands and marketers for “engagement” and “relationship building,” from the customer perspective, they see customer service as more of a transaction.

  • More than half (55 percent) said they viewed customer service as a transaction and not as an experience that “should reflect me as a person.”
  • When asked if they wanted answers to questions or for companies “to know my mood and respond accordingly,” an overwhelming eight in 10 agreed that answers were more important.
  • Almost half (47 percent) said that the one thing that most created a favorable impression was a quick response.

Personalization Versus Privacy 

When it comes to customer service, there is an ongoing struggle for companies trying to find the right balance between privacy and personalization. To further complicate matters, that balance—and the reasons for not liking the service provided—can lie in different places depending on the sector.

  • Respondents were fairly evenly split overall (51/49 percent) between those who accept that a degree of personalization is necessary to provide a good service and those who were suspicious about how their data is used.
  • For young Americans, the balance was more in favor of personalization at 59 percent, compared to just 46 percent for those over the age of 35.
  • For “high relationship” sectors such as banking, dissatisfaction with service most often came from mistakes or an uninterested staff. On the other hand, for supermarkets and other retailers, price was said to be key in driving a preference of personalization.

Long-term Customer Relationships are Declining

Businesses are in danger of becoming a commodity. The research found that, when compared to a similar study completed in 2012, the proportion of consumers that maintained a relationship with a provider for three years or more had dropped from 85 percent to 60 percent. For the Millennial cohort, that figure dropped to just 40 percent. Longevity of relationships varied significantly between sectors, with banking, supermarkets, grocery, and clothing earning the most loyalty. At the other end of the scale, phone and broadband providers, as well as online retailers showed the most churn amongst customers. This is where a local small business can reap some significant benefits. Going above and beyond to not only deliver great customer service at the time of sale, but strategically putting systems in place that allow you to stay connected to, and serving, your customer base can go a long way toward building relationships that endure.

This graphic from eMarketer summarizes the key findings worldwide.

Graphic from eMarketer summarizes the key findings worldwide.

Keeping it simple 

The results of the study suggest that providing good customer service is essentially a simple process, with speed and convenience being the top priorities important for your customers.

Delivering on that means having well-trained first contact and frontline staff, ensuring that they have real-time information available to answer customer queries, and empowering your team with the authority to quickly and effectively resolve customer issues. It means building systems throughout the organization and (hopefully) maintaining an up-to-date CRM system. That way, the same information is available to all members of your team on a moment’s notice, and a consistent approach is adopted, whether contact is made by phone, face-to-face, by email, online, chat, or by way of social media channels.

In addition, it means employing keyword alerts and other tools that allow you to listen and monitor the social media space, and being smart when it comes to proactive reputation management strategies. Most importantly it means staying in touch with your customers after the sale, and communicating with customers regularly as part of your email marketing efforts.

Happy Customers Provide Fuel for Business

Great customer service invariably leads to happy customers, even if that stemmed from a mistake or complaint. Even better, happy customers take positive action. Take a look at this graphic that emarketer produced from the Verint research that summarizes what respondents are likely to do if a company goes that extra mile.

graphic emarketer what respondents are likely to do if a company goes that extra mile.

As you can see, happy customers are vocal customers. They tell their friends, they write reviews, and they spend more. That’s powerful fuel for any business, but for a small local business, it’s a way to level the playing field. It’s not easy to compete against big brands, but when you can win at customer service, you’re on the right path. Just remember, your customers want speed, convenience, and an understanding of who they are and what they need. The business that has the tools, people, and processes in place to give them just that will be the most likely to succeed.


You can find out more about the Verint study and Infographics summarizing the results at Customer-Centricity: The Rules of Engagement (registration required).

*Graphics source How to Win at Customer Service: Keep It Simple (eMarketer)


Previously titled Key to Small Business Success: Great Customer Service and published on V3B.com. An earlier version was published on YP Marketing Solutions blog.

Lead/Featured Image: Copyright: ‘http://www.123rf.com/profile_auremar‘ / 123RF Stock Photo

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Daniel Newman's work is widely published. He is active in the social media community and the author of Amazon best-selling business book, “The Millennial CEO.” He also co-founded the global online Community 12 Most. He is the founder and CEO of Broadsuite Marketing Group and Principal Analyst at Futurum Research + Analysis. He is also co-founder of V3B [V3+Broadsuite]