Giving Thanks to Your Customers

By Michelle Russillo, SCORE OC Counselor

With the many choices consumers have today, customer service is the one of the leading ways you can drive your business to stronger revenue. Go above and beyond to let your customers know they are important, and they will return again and again. Here’s how to thank your customers for their patronage:

Always go the extra mile. Exceed customers’ expectations; get to know customers who frequent your establishment often; greet your customers by name. A happy, loyal customer who receives special treatment is more likely to return.

Handle complaints with tact and finesse. You have to listen well to hear what they’re complaining about. Then you have to be empathetic to their perception of the problem, be genuine in your apology, thank the customer for sharing their complaint with you and fix the problem. This will show your customers you are focused on them. You have one chance to remedy the problem before the customer chooses to leave you or, worse, use social media to complain.

Improve your communication skills. Small business owners must be able to communicate clearly to best describe the benefit of their services or products. Customers want to feel confident they are receiving a product or service that exceeds their expectations. Ensure all communications—including social media, website, emails and in-person communication–are clear and simple for the customer to understand. Anticipate what the customer wants and deliver it. Respond promptly and kindly to all requests, inquiries and complaints. Know that a customer wants value (not necessarily low price), consistency, reliability and predictability in your service or product.

Say “Thank you” often. The more often you let the customer know they are valued, the more you will strengthen their loyalty to you. Saying thanks in a letter, by email, and via special offers for free products will go a long way. Be thankful not only when customers give you compliments but also when they give you criticism or suggestions. This means they are interested in helping you improve. Always remember to thank customers for recommending your service or product. Go out of your way to ensure they know you appreciate their patronage.

During this time of year when we give thanks, be sure to remember your loyal customers. Take the time to try these tips, and you’ll be thankful you did.

Michelle Russillo is a SCORE OC Counselor and the CEO of MDR Consulting, LLC, a veterinary practices consulting company.

Pushing Through the Obstacles to Starting a Business

By Rieva Lesonsky

Have you ever started a self-improvement program—such as a diet plan or exercise routine—and felt frustrated with it? Maybe at first you’re getting great results, and you’re excited and energized. But after a few weeks, you get into a slump. Your workout seems too tough, or the pounds aren’t dropping off even though you’re counting calories.

When pushing through a challenge like this, I’m always inspired by remembering the message I found in a fortune cookie many years ago: “It does not matter if the results of today’s efforts do not show. They will in time.” It may sound silly, but this fortune popped up at a time in my life when I needed some inspiration, and for years I had it tacked to my office bulletin board.

Starting a business is kind of like starting a self-improvement program. After all, what better way to improve your life than to take charge of your own destiny by becoming an entrepreneur? But just like a fitness or weight-loss plan, launching a business involves many highs and lows. There will be some days when you feel like you’re on the fast track to success, and others when you feel your efforts are going nowhere and you just want to give up.

Here are some ways I’ve found to make slogging through the down times manageable and not lose focus:

Break it down. If you try to do too much at once, you’ll quickly become overwhelmed, so break big tasks into small steps. This is especially important if you’re trying to start a business while still holding a full-time job. For instance, if you’re trying to find a location for your business, step one could simply be looking up names of commercial real estate agents. Step two could be contacting three of them. Step three is selecting one. You get the idea. Break huge steps into small steps, and you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment each time you finish a step along the way.

Be patient. Books may promise “Thin Thighs in 30 Days,” but the reality is that, like getting in shape, starting a business isn’t a get-rich-quick plan. It takes time to do it right, and cutting corners in the beginning only sets you up for problems in the end. Like a marathon runner, pace yourself and accept that your business may not happen overnight—but it will happen.

Enlist supporters. Whether it’s losing 20 pounds or holding your grand opening, it’s always easier to accomplish a goal when you have a cheering section on your side. Tell your friends and family about your plans for your business and make sure you have their full support. Ask them to hold you accountable for accomplishing the goals you set yourself, and to give you a pep talk when you’re getting discouraged. Often, talking to someone is all it takes to get you back on track.

Of course, a SCORE mentor can be your biggest fan, coach and support system all rolled into one. Don’t have a mentor? What are you waiting for? Visit SCORE’s website to get matched with one and receive free counseling 24/7.

Rieva Lesonsky is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Rieva is a regular contributor to SCORE Small Business Success Blog. Follow Rieva at Twitter.com/Rieva and visit her blog at SmallBizDaily.com. Visit her website SmallBizTrendCast to get the scoop on business trends and sign up for Rieva’s free TrendCast reports.

Reprinted with permission from blog.score.org.

Celebrate Small Business Saturday

It’s right around the corner. The holiday season is about to begin or perhaps it already has for your business. You’ve probably already ordered inventory and planned your holiday marketing campaign.

Make Small Business Saturday part of your marketing plan. If you didn’t participate or hear about the event last year, Small Business Saturday is the day after Black Friday (this year, that will be November 26, 2011) and is designated as a day for shopping at local, independently owned small businesses.

The first Small Business Saturday, instigated by American Express OPEN and held last year, was a huge success, raising awareness of how much “shopping local” can help small retailers and their communities.

So far, more than 200 public and private organizations have partnered with American Express OPEN to participate in the second annual Small Business Saturday. SCORE, The Association of Small Business Development Centers, Enterprising Women, Hispanics Impacting Public Policy and National Small Business Association are just a few of the organizations participating in the Small Business Saturday Coalition (Check out the SCORE Small Business Saturday page). These partners will increase awareness of Small Business Saturday by producing live events nationwide and distributing tools to help local merchants market themselves during the holiday season.

To see if organizations that you are involved with are members of the Coalition, check out the full list of partners. Go to the Small Business Saturday website and download all the free marketing material including signage, badges and more to use in your business. Also be sure to “like” Small Business Saturday on Facebook so you’ll be updated on all the news and events surrounding Small Business Saturday.

Make an appointment with your local SCORE counselor to help you think of ways to maximize your involvement with the event and get ideas on increasing your holiday sales. Call us at (714) 550-7369.