We constantly hear in the media about how difficult it is for small businesses to sustain themselves during the economic downturn, which we have suffered from in the UK for the last seven years or so.
The economy now seems to be picking up slowly but even so, small businesses have to compete in the market and often find that cash flow is a major problem alongside developing any kind of market share.
So you would think that a key part of their business strategy would be a particular emphasis on customer service and going the “extra nine yards” in providing excellent service to customers.
Well, if my own personal experience as a would be customer in the last twelve months is anything to go by, it is no wonder that many of them develop a reputation for unreliability and many go out of business.
About nine months ago we had new double glazed windows fitted throughout our home. The man who did the job came strongly recommended and we were satisfied with the work he did. After two months one of the window units became unsealed resulting in condensation. I contacted the joiner who had fitted them and he came to inspect the fitting and agreed that a new unit would be needed. He agreed to order a new one and then come to fit it.
Six months later he turned up unannounced and said he had been having difficulty getting the new unit made. I asked why he had not contacted us to update us on the situation and his response was along the lines of “I have been very busy.” I suggested to him that if I had treated my customers like this (I work as a freelance career consultant) I would have got no further business from them. He seemed quite unable (or unwilling) to grasp the point about regular communication with customers, particularly when problems arise.
After taking measurements of the window he said he would have to find a new supplier of window frames as his usual supplier had become unreliable (so why didn’t he let us know this!). A further two weeks have now elapsed and I have had no further communication with him. It is pointless ringing him as he admitted to me during a previous conversation that he regularly turns his mobile off. I await further developments.
Next case, in April 2015 I asked a builder (again recommended by a neighbour) to give me a quote for some plastering work we need doing in a small bedroom. He provided a written quote and then I heard nothing for a month. I called him and he happened to be in Portugal on holiday but he said he would schedule the work for August 2015, as he had no time available before that. It is now October and guess what, no work done and not even a call from the builder to “explain reason for delay.”
Last May my wife phoned a local landscape gardener to come around and give is a quote for some work we needed doing. Yes, you know what is coming, no sign of the gardener and no communication from him.
Final example, in July 2015 we discovered we had an ant infestation in the garden so I looked up several firms on the internet who specialise in this kind of work. I phoned three companies and left messages with all of them to ring me back to discuss the job I wanted doing and to get a price quote. One rang back within forty-eight hours and the others didn’t bother to contact me (I left home and mobile numbers and we have 24 hour answering machine on the landline).
The company that agreed to do the work fixed a date and time and on the given date they turned up fifty-five minutes after the agreed appointment time. No apology was offered and when I raised it with them they simply said, “we have been busy this morning.” I pointed out that they had my home and mobile number and could have rung me to explain delay, this was greeted with indifference and a shrug of the shoulders.
These are just some of the experiences I have had dealing with small businesses (don’t even get me going on the likes of BT, Curry’s and the banking institutions) in the last twelve months or so.
As Tom Peters said many years ago in his book In Search of Excellence, “don’t just meet customer need, but exceed it”………….there are a good number of British workmen (and women) who could do with being reminded of this time to time.