Category Archives: Customers

SMALL BUSINESS OPTIMISM CONTINUES TO GROW

smallbusinessownerby Isaac M. O’Bannon, CPA Practice Advisor, August 13, 2014

More small business owners say their company’s current financial situation is good, yet their outlook for the next year has not changed significantly, according to a new survey.

The latest Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index score increased slightly to positive 49 (+49) in July, up two points from positive 47 (+47) in April. The score, which measures small business optimism, has increased six of the last seven quarters. Small business optimism is now at its highest point in more than six years, however it remains well below pre-recession levels.

The present situation – how business owners rate current conditions for their businesses – is the main contributor to increased optimism in the latest survey. The present situation score is now at a positive 18 (+18), up four points since the April survey and 14 points from the same period a year ago. Specific factors that contribute to the improvement include:

  • Small business owners are feeling better about their current business financial situation, with 62 percent rating it as very or somewhat good, up from 57 percent in the second quarter 2014.
  • More business owners report their company’s revenues have increased, with 43 percent indicating revenues are up in the past 12 months compared with 36 percent in April.
  • Cash flow over the past 12 months also is at a six-year high. In the survey, 55 percent of business owners report their cash flow has been very or somewhat good over the past year, up from 50 percent in the second quarter of 2014.
  • Ease of obtaining credit in the past 12 months is up significantly – 32 percent of small business owners say that it has been very or somewhat easy to obtain credit in the past 12 months.

At the same time, the future outlook for business owners in the July survey was relatively unchanged, down two points to positive 31 (+31) from positive 33 (+33) in the second quarter. In three surveys conducted in 2014, the percent of business owners who think their businesses’ cash flow, financial situation and revenue would improve over the next 12 months has not moved significantly. The percent of business owners who expect to increase capital spending in the year ahead is the same as those who plan to decrease (25 percent).

“The latest Index scores show small businesses have made gradual progress since the economic downturn –with modest improvement in the economy, healthier small businesses are growing revenue and have stronger cash flow today,” said Lisa Stevens, head of Small Business for Wells Fargo. “However, we know many businesses still face challenges in the marketplace and it’s reflected in the survey results. Many continue to wait for more improvement in their businesses and the economy before they express confidence in the year ahead.”

Business owners report that the biggest challenge they face is attracting customers and finding business (13 percent), followed closely by government regulations (11 percent), financial stability of their business (11 percent) and the economy (11 percent).

When it comes to generating new business, small business owners said the toughest part is marketing and advertising (14 percent), and competition (13 percent). Ten percent of business owners said the costs of running a business make it difficult to attract customers and grow. Another 10 percent said making product improvements or having the latest products is the biggest challenge to growing sales.

SURPRISE YOUR CUSTOMERS TO BUILD LOYALTY

customerloyaltyCustomers generally expect to get what they pay for. If you go beyond that to deliver something extra and unexpected, you can set your company apart from the competition. To that end, here are five ways to surprise customers and beat “the other guys.”

1. Get to know people personally. Do you reach out to customers soon after a purchase is made, just to see whether they’re satisfied? Think about the positive impression you’ll make on customers by doing so. Making contact can be as simple as inviting customers to take an online survey or as involved as making a phone call or sending a personalized email or a handwritten thank-you note. Longtime loyalty stems from gestures like these.

For example, salespeople at The Mitchells Family of Stores in Fairfield, Connecticut, contact customers by phone, email or handwritten note, “not trying to sell them anything, but letting them know we’re available to do alterations, or to come to their home and look at their closet to see what is still wearable,” says CEO Jack Mitchell.

2. Offer help even when you don’t benefit from doing so. Like every other business, you have a customer-service policy and need to maintain certain standards. But when a valued client makes a special request, it may make sense to deviate from the rules. For example, you could provide free shipping on an exceptionally large order. Or, if you can’t satisfy a customer’s particular need, you could make a referral to a business that can. Customers are often surprised by this level of attention, and they’ll remember a business that provides it.

“Be willing to refer customers, even to your competitors,” says Maria Korolov, editor and publisher of Hypergrid Business. “Then, when the customer is in a market for whatever it is you’re selling, they’ll remember you and come back.”

3. Solicit feedback. Is there a place on your website where visitors can easily offer suggestions or voice a complaint? Making the process simple shows how much you value your customers’ opinions. When a problem occurs with your service or product, offering a candid admission of the error — as opposed to excuses — may help you retain a potentially alienated customer. Always follow up with anyone who complains to let the customer know the problem has been resolved.

“The right follow-up can often rescue a customer,” notes Richard White, founder and CEO of UserVoice.

4. Be generous with discounts. Customers expect markdowns on goods or services from time to time. What they may not expect is a surprise 5 percent discount on their next invoice with a note saying, “Thank you for being such a great customer.” Consider offering other special discounts or free samples as rewards to loyal customers. This tactic also can be useful for repairing your relationships with complaining customers (see #3).

5. Keep your top employees happy. In a bricks-and-mortar setting, customers put a lot of emphasis on how well they’re served by employees. Staff members who do an outstanding job of assisting customers are often a small business’s most valuable asset. Take care of these employees in order to keep turnover to a minimum.

Visitors to your website or your store won’t always make a purchase. But it’s still important to be gracious and attentive to their needs, no matter what. “The key is to always make your customer happy,” says Nicole Leinbach Reyhle, founder of Retail Minded. “If they remember a great experience in your store [or website] — even without a purchase — they are more likely to return again.”

by Lee Polevoi on  Read more: http://blog.intuit.com/marketing/surprise-your-customers-to-build-loyalty/#ixzz31srqCjR9