Small Businesses: What Your Customers Want From You

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Understanding YOUR Customers Key To Small Business Success

As a small business owner, perhaps the most important thing to know is what YOUR customers, and prospective customers want.

Once you have a good sense of customer needs and wants, then you can identify how you can meet them in ways that your large competitors cannot.

Different Niches Mean Different Customer Wants

First lesson. There are very few “wants” that apply to every sort of business. Even within a niche, say, the restaurant world, the expectations of someone going to a find dining establishment are going to be different than if they go to a local, smaller scale Greek restaurant.

You need to identify what YOUR customers want from you, rather than rely on some general statements for what ALL customers want.

Customers in some kinds of establishments, will go to you if you are more convenient regardless of price. Some kinds of businesses may have very price sensitive customers (an area where it’s hard to compete with larger companies). Some customers will prefer higher quality and pay a higher price for it. Some will be OK with lower quality, if prices are lower.

Most Small Businesses Will Thrive Via Providing A Warm, Emotionally Supportive Customer Experience

One thing we can say is that it’s rare that larger companies provide an experience that sticks in customers’ memories because it is personalized, supportive, and inviting.

Walmart staff don’t remember customer names, provide good advice on product choice, and interactions with staff may be friendly and courteous, but rarely “warm” enough or personalized enough, to warrant looking forward to returning because of the people one interacts with.

People go to personal services companies that are smaller, because they get to know the people there, and in turn, are known by them.

It’s the same for professional services, like insurance.

So, your goal, as a business owner, is to make sure that every contact with a customer, whether it’s you, or an employee interacting, results in a warm sense of personalized service.

It’s the face-to-face interactions where you will almost always exceed what large companies do.

Benefiting From The Desire For A Warm Connection

  • The Visible Owner: People feel more connected and special if they can interact with the business owner or manager. They like to be able to talk to you, ask questions, get to know you, and be known and recognized as an individual.

    It may not always be possible to be personally available, face-to-face, but it’s good to try. If you can’t and you have regular customers, consider using the phone, or email (if you have email addresses) to reach out in as personal a way as possible.

    If you have the kind of business that has fewer but higher value customers, reach out to them as often as you can. Keep notes about those customers. Phone them semi-regularly, not to “sell” but to see how they are doing, or offer them a good customer discount. The key is that YOU do it. Don’t delegate this function.
  • Hire People Oriented Staff: It’s very difficult to train and coach people who aren’t people oriented to become warm and interactive with customers. That’s why it’s important to try to hire people who tend to be verbal, have advanced social skills, and can communicate on a one-to-one basis.
  • Train and Coach Staff: There’s a tendency to train and coach staff on the nuts and bolts of the business functions: how to complete transactions, how to stock shelves, that kind of thing. Unfortunately not enough time is spent on how to interact with customers, and on the image you want your business to have.

    You need to ensure training and coaching are available. And that it’s ongoing. Observe staff interactions. Make concrete suggestions on how they can improve. Allow them to see what YOU do with customers. Make it clear exactly what you want. Use slow times to teach.
  • Being The Trusted Advisor: More and more customers are looking for ADVICE that fits their particular situation. That means that both you and your staff need to have superior knowledge of your products and services, so you can provide that advice to customers. It also involves LISTENING before advising.

    This is an area that is sorely lacking in most larger companies. Obviously you need to teach your staff about the details, advantages and disadvantages of different client options. And always with the customer’s well being as the primary concern.
  • Listen and Individualize Customer Experience: Customer needs and wants can vary, even at different times. One visit may require being fast moving, while another may be more leisurely with the customer wanting to feel a personal connection.

    Listen, observe, and teach your staff to do so. And, get feedback from your customers. Get to know each one if you can.


People in general crave personal connections. This seems odd in a world of electronic communication and social media, but in fact, that craving for personal connection isn’t often satisfied by anything other than face-to-face communication.

Don’t rely on social media or technology to connect you to customers. Direct communication between you and the customer, or your employees and customers makes all the difference.

Large companies almost never have the capabilities to compete with you with respect to providing a connected customer experience.

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