Small Business Owners: Your Customer Service IS Your Marketing!

yakov

Remember Yakov Smirnoff?

He was big in the '80s and used to tell jokes like this:

In America, you can always find a party. In Russia, The Party can always find you!

See the switch-eroo there? Clever, right?

I was thinking about that after I read the Network Solutions report I referenced in my last post about whether social media marketing was viable for small businesses. My riff off Smirnoff went something like this:

Before the internet, marketing hid poor customer service. In a web 2.0 world, customer service IS your marketing!

Not quite as catchy as ol' Yakov, but still possessing that kernel of truth, don't you think?

Where Are We And How Did We Get Here?

The Network Solutions data (PDF) showed that small business owners were largely successful with customer service, but that overall marketing and innovation was ranked the second lowest of six success attributes.

So, in my last post, I took the four lowest qualities in the marketing and innovation category (from Network Solutions data) and compared that with a large study of what social media marketing does well (Michael Stelzner data).

This comparison proved that social media marketing just might help your small business. (If you're shaking your head and muttering "No Duh" as you read this, hang with me.)

So What's The Next Step?

Logic then dictates that we examine just how social media marketing could help your small business.

If you've read Now, Discover Your Strengths you know that your best option is not to obsess about improving in areas you have little skill. Instead, you want to leverage what you're good at. And remember what Network Solutions' data said small business owners succeed in?: Customer Service.

What the hell do customer service and marketing have in common? These days, almost everything.

Here's the secret: Your customer service IS your marketing. If you take nothing else from this post, remember that!

Let me show you. I'll take those four worst attributes of small businesses' marketing and innovation and create scenarios where your customer service becomes your marketing.

A Closer Look

Problem: Finding efficient ways to advertise and promote your business.

Solution: Remember how Craigslist basically crushed the classified ad business? Likewise, don't think of advertising as a huge line item in your budget. Let your good work be your advertisement.

Ask your best customers to put in a good word for you on Yelp.com or Angie's List. Better yet, offer a small discount on a customer's bill - no strings attached - and just mention that you're listed on those sites. Some may not post about their experience, but evidence in Yes! says that a lot of them will. (It's a good book, by the way - read my review here.)

"Approaching the potentially cooperative relationship in this way [unconditional and no-strings-attached] should not only increase the likelihood that you'll secure their cooperation in the first place, but also ensure that the cooperation you do receive is build on a solid foundation of trust and mutual appreciation, rather than on a much weaker incentive system" (page 59).

Problem: Converting marketing leads into buyers.

Solution: Ug, "leads." Could there be a more self-serving term? They aren't individuals or customers or even users, but leads?

What if you could make them come to you? What if you spent less time cold-calling "leads" and more time being the go-to expert?

Become a resource on Twitter or answer questions on LinkedIn. Join an industry group on your favorite site or get active in a forum discussion.

Here's the thing: rather than trying to convince people to hire you, instead convince them about how good you really are. Isn't that the point? You didn't start your small business to become a salesperson (well, most of you). But if you become a resource for a community, you will be the first person community members call when they need help.

Problem: Positioning your organization as having the same capabilities as big organizations in your industry.

Solution: Again, maybe I'm missing something. Why are you trying to make your small business seem big? Why not focus on the benefits of a small business?

Have you been watching The Office in recent weeks? The main character left his corporate behemoth and started the eponymous Michael Scott Paper Company.

He didn't try to convince people he could do everything Dunder Mifflin did. Instead, he focused on what his small team could do: provide real value, excellent customer service, and those 5am paper deliveries in the Korean church bus.

What's the equivalent for your business? Be agile, hungry...and successful.

Problem: Identifying new prospective customers.

Solution: In a sense, you could use elements of the other three problems to attract more customers. You can also create a destination for prospective customers who would be interested in your product.

For instance, let's say you're an expert on high-end coffee beans. Start a blog and go relentlessly after keywords like Kona and Jamaican Blue Mountain. Write posts about the product and show your expertise (just don't be a jerk about it). Prospective customers will search for those keywords and find your amazing posts - Bingo!

Readers who comment on these posts should be of special interest. Sure, they're even more likely to be prospective customers, but they could also be brand evangelists or someone who could teach you a vital aspect of the business.

Convinced yet?

Just yesterday, The Chicago Tribune published a story about small businesses who found success with social media marketing. Here's what Andy Sernovitz, chief executive of GasPedal, a Chicago consulting firm specializing in word-of-mouth marketing and social media, had to say on the subject:

"Because of the viral nature of social media, companies that take the time to communicate are likely to see their goodwill spread. One simple technique for building relationships involves responding to positive mentions by saying 'thank you' and following up on negative mentions with an apology and a solution to the problem, Sernovitz said."

Excellent customer service - even if the product is momentarily sub-par - creates goodwill, positive conversation, and might even improve your business.

Are you more convinced about my Yakov Smirnoff riff now?

Before the internet, marketing hid poor customer service. In a web 2.0 world, customer service IS your marketing!

What a country world!

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(Photo courtesy of amanderson2 via Flickr)