Small businesses looking to larger businesses for "best practices" often adopt exactly the wrong ones. The results can be humorous. I once met a very capable operator with a 200-location route who grandly incorporated "worldwide" into his company name. This sort of thing is harmless, but borrowing the wrong ideas can be expensive.
The small business owner has to walk a fine line between corporate-style professionalism and mom-and-pop informality. Nearly every small business wants to appear larger than it really is. Size confers a perception of credibility that can put a potential customer at ease. This is particularly true when dealing with location management that has to answer to honchos at corporate headquarters.
That is not to say that there is nothing that the corporate model can do for a small business. This is especially true today, when so many business tools used by large enterprises are within the reach of the most modest operation. Laminated ID badges for route personnel, uniform shirts, clearly printed collection receipts and a snazzy-looking website are just a few examples within reach.
Large companies have always played to their inherent strengths. They take advantage of economies of scale in purchases and specialization in management structure. They make enormous investments in building their brands and distributing them. And, to be sure, many of them do these things incredibly well. They function in the most efficient ways possible to be as profitable as they can be for their sizes.
Sadly, the same cannot be said for many small companies. In trying to mimic the practices of larger organizations, they surrender one of their key advantages. To project an image of size, they risk sacrificing customer service. While many large organizations struggle mightily to offer personalized service, that same level of service comes naturally to small firms. Several years ago, the chief executive of a large clothing concern shocked people when he personally took calls from disgruntled customers. He is a rare exception to the rule.
One particularly good operator I know has a standing policy that every phone call is answered. He disdains voicemail to the point of phobia. While he realizes that voicemail has become an unhappy fact of life, he is adamant that it is not to be used to screen calls. This policy creates a level of customer service that no large organization can hope to match.
Even for a relatively small company, this level of customer service is not easy to maintain. Every bulk vendor I know has that location where the manager calls in at least once a week with a complaint. And somebody has to take those calls cheerfully.
Today, far too many operators spend too little phone and face time with location management. A dedicated operator we know will drive miles out of his way to shop at one of his locations. Not only is this a not-so-subtle display of loyalty, but it also allows him to study the location and other potential ones in the area. This policy also delivers one of the subsidiary benefits of customer service: immediate feedback. Large corporations may have 20 or more layers of management between the consumer and C-level executives. Is it any wonder that many Cs (the Es, Os and Fs) have a distorted image of just who is buying their products?
In an age where placing a simple call often entails working our way through endless prompts and emails that are not returned for days, a voice at the end of the phone or other quick response can go a long way to building better customer relationships. There is genuine power in the mom-and-pop management style, but only if operators learn to harness it effectively.