As a small business owner or manager, you're likely painfully aware of your weaknesses compared to your larger rivals. You may have to charge more for some items, and you almost certainly can't advertise at the same level national chains do.
What you can do, though, is connect with your customers. You can offer one-on-one service on a personal level that bigger companies can't compete with. That's not easy to do, and it requires a deep commitment -- but you can offer an upgraded customer service experience if you do these things.
1. Make it personal
Has the manager of a chain store ever given you his or her phone number asking you to call with any problems or requests? It may happen, but it's not common. As a small business owner or manager, you can make this offer to both your best customers and your most difficult ones.
This places an added burden on you, but it also saves employees time. If special requests (or complaints) start at the highest level, then there's a strong chance they will get resolved before any resentment sets in.
2. Empower your staff
You don't want your employees to give away the house, but you also don't want them to have to ask you about every little thing. When it comes to keeping customers happy, give them as much power as possible. You should also train them on things like return policies and where you have leeway with your vendors and where you don't.
Sometimes the ability to offer a customer a small perk for free or an added discount can go a long way. Make sure they have as many tools at their disposal as possible.
3. Do special things for your best customers
Make your most-prized customers feel special by treating them to things that other customers don't have access to. This could mean giving them early access to a sale, or even holding an event -- like a dinner or in-store party -- to recognize them. Sometimes, really small things like "gold" membership cards or other status symbols can go a long way toward building a stronger connection between customers and your store.
4. Be inclusive
It can be hard for new customers to feel connected to a store populated by a lot of regulars. As a manager, it's important for you to make someone who just walked through the door feel comfortable. That could include introducing yourself, giving a tour, or making an introduction to a staff member who can serve as the new person's guide.
There's no exact way to do it, but be friendly and show newcomers all the best things that your regulars know about your business. Make a person you've never seen before feel like part of the family and they may actually become one.
Always do more
The trick to offering top-tier customer service is always striving to do more. Think about how you can delight your customers and make your business more friendly and approachable. Make every effort to put your customer first, and be aggressive when it comes to handling problems. This is an area where the harder you work, the more it will be noticed, paying off in a tighter bond between you and your customers.