This is not a “let’s trash small business discussion.”
It’s really more of a love letter to small business a plea for you to change so that you can compete with your online retail competition.
Two weeks ago I started the process to try to make and buy custom t-shirts for my volleyball team.
I searched the internet and the shop local Facebook pages and contacted three local vendors to get quotes and start the process. (And, PS – I made a video about this as it was such a phenomenally frustrating and unbelievable experience – check that out here!)
If you’re competing against online retailers what you need to figure out as a local business, especially as a brick-and-mortar retailer is you must provide systems and processes for your customers to be successful and you need to be able to repeat that success with the same customers and new customers.
That is the big difference between what you do and what online retailers do. It’s the STARTING point that determines the experience people will have with you. When all other factors are the same – product, price, delivery, timing . . . it’s the EXPERIENCES that differentiate you and determine if people will CHOOSE you.
If you don’t have systems and processes in your business this is what it looks like:
I contacted one vendor after searching their website and deciding what t-shirt style, size, colors I wanted – I mean, I was going to make this so easy. I called him so he could he gave me his email address (Um, why was that not on the website?) And I sent him my specific request for quote. I didn’t hear from him for over 24 hours so I called the business again. The woman who answered the phone said, “Oh, he promised you a quote? Well, I’ll get on to him to respond to you.” Like promising to provide quotes and responding to people is a surprise to you? So that’s your process? Do you have to be reminded to get back to customers? Fail.
Hours later he responded with a quote that felt nothing less than hostile: “Your artwork is too small,” is how it started. Not “Hello,” or “Thank you for your request.” It started with “Your artwork is too small. There will be a fee for us to have to recreate it.”
WTF. I can think of a dozen different ways you could have phrased that didn’t immediately put me on the emotional defensive. He also didn’t give me a quote but I responded with corrected artwork. And then he proceeded to respond the next day with another antagonistic email that said “You said it was two-color but clearly there are four here and that’s an additional charge. If this is what you were intending here is your quote.”
Do I want to do business with an asshole? No. No, I don’t. More importantly, I don’t have to.
The second vendor I looked up on their Facebook page. I clicked the link to their email but their security certificate has expired. I stopped right there. Seriously? I guess they don’t expect anyone to GO to their website.
I did call the phone number on their Facebook page. And that went to some Woman’s Work voicemail. Another WTF moment.
Is this a hobby? And why are for the love of God would you not get a Google number or second phone if this is a source of income for you – to sound professional? I didn’t leave a message.
About an hour later I got a call back with a “You called?” Another WTF moment for me.
“Yes, I was looking to order t-shirts?” Her response was, “Oh yeah, what can I do for you?”
Oh, Lord. I explained to her what I was looking for and that I had all the specs ready to go and she gave me her email address. I repeated it back to her and told her I would send her an email right away.
I didn’t hear a single reply from her. No bounce-back email so I know it was received. A week later an email showed up that said, “Oh wow. I just found your email in my junk mail folder. Do you still need shirts?”
Didn’t I say I was going to email you right away? Didn’t you have my phone number to call when you didn’t see the email? Shouldn’t you check your junk folder regularly?
I deleted that email without responding.
The third vendor was quite responsive initially. I sent her a request for quote with the specs and she sent me back an email within the day. Asking me a question. I responded to her question. The next day she sent me another email with a question. And I responded to her question. The next day she sent me another email with a question. And I responded with an answer. The next day she sent me . . . you see how this is going.
We are two weeks into that inquiry and I still don’t even know if she’s going to be able to make t-shirts for me.
The moral of the story is that if you cannot create systems and processes to make your customers successful and to repeat successful outcomes then you are not a business you are a hobby. You are “doing business” at your leisure and I guarantee you are irritating and off-putting potential customers.
And while people have the best intentions and want to shop and support their local vendors, their neighbors in their communities, we have businesses and lives to run to and expect a quality experience too. You can’t expect me to buy local if your effort is crap and doesn’t respect the fact that I can order and get anything I need online. I’m not going to do business with you at MY own expense. If you don’t create systems and processes to make your customers consistently successful you will be pushed even further into obsolescence and you will be replaced.
And furthermore please don’t respond with, “Oh, I’ve got a guy” or, “You should have called this person,” because let me tell you I searched. I search the internet and I searched Facebook and anyone who does not show up on Google searches or Facebook searches does not have a business they have a hobby. And I am not going down that road again. Because my time is too precious and I have WAY TOO MANY OPTIONS!
People hunger for experiences. Contact. Community. Unique and tangible good that they can feel GOOD about buying when they put faces and names to them. If you can’t provide the experience to be preferential to our interactions and the ease of purchase online, you will not stay in business.
Being a small business is no excuse for thinking or acting small. Online businesses assume NO BOUNDARIES – therefore they create ordering systems and encounters for customers to be able to do business with them anywhere and anytime. Why is it so different locally? Why should we expect less from local businesses? Customers are not bound by geography anymore.
If YOU want an assessment of your business, ask a customer that you’ve lost. Why didn’t they buy? What could you do better? What would make them FEEL good?
And, if you want to know how to create experiences that your customers will RAVE About, follow up with me. We’ve got experience and ideas to give you a tremendous leg up on your competition – both online, and on the block.
Until next time, stop hoping and start SELLING!