Be easy to do business with.

Recently, I outlined five small business marketing rules and invited you to take the test to see how your small business’ marketing performs.

This article focuses on the first rule- Be easy to do business with. Small businesses have the competitive advantage of being able to offer their customers flexibility, personalization and relationships.Your customers will be as loyal to you as you are to them- take advantage of this truism.

Being easy to do business with isn’t the only reason your customers will become loyal, but it is certainly a necessary condition. If you give your customers any reason not to buy from you, they probably won’t. If you make it difficult to do more business with you, they won’t do that either.

So how do you become easy to do business with? The first step is to analyze what your business is like from your customers’ point of view. This is not limited to marketing interactions with your customers but should include billing, customer service, waiting areas and every point of contact customers have with you. Ask your employees for their honest assessments and feel free to ask some of your customers about their experiences with your business.

Sometimes companies make operational decisions and neglect to consider how those decisions will affect the customer experience. A lovely restaurant near my office is open from 7AM – 2:30PM, which is brilliant for operations. They only require one eight-hour shift. It makes scheduling very easy. But how does it look from a customer’s point of view, when McDonald’s opens at 5AM for breakfast? How many potential customers avoid this restaurant when they have to be at the office by 8AM? You need to be available at the times your customers want to buy, even if it makes life more difficult for you.

Many small businesses avoid the hassle of accepting credit cards. Yet Nilson Reports show that there were 20.2 billion credit card purchase transactions in 2009. That’s about 65 credit card transactions per U.S. citizen each year. If given the choice, it’s likely your customers would prefer to pay by credit card (other studies also show consumers spend more when they use credit cards as opposed to cash, as well).

The next step to becoming easy to do business with is to test your processes internally before inflicting them onto your customers. I’ve received my fair share of speeding tickets, and I’m always amazed at how cumbersome it is to pay the fine. I’m certain all of my readers are law-abiding citizens, but you may have seen an acquaintance’s speeding ticket. In many states, the envelope provided to mail in payment is the same size as the ticket itself, requiring you to fold the ticket in quarters to mail it back. The government isn’t designed to be easy to do business with, but small business owners should learn from this lesson.

Accounts receivable is an area where many businesses aren’t easy to do business with. Have you ever tested the process required for your customers to pay you? Does your billing cycle consider your customers’ schedules, or is it simply convenient for you? Take a look at your invoices. Are they clear, professional and part of your branding experience? The worst invoices I’ve seen have a hodgepodge of clauses left over from process changes that were created for internal convenience.

Once you identify the areas where you are difficult to do business with, you need to fix those areas. This step can sometimes be impossible in large companies, where a labyrinth of bureaucracy cements processes in place. The great advantage of small businesses is their flexibility, though. Start by prioritizing the most important interactions and the ones with the most room for improvement.

Finally, tell your customers about your improvements. It doesn’t matter how many fixes you’ve made if your customers don’t give you credit for them! At your next appropriate interaction with each customer, mention your new, more convenient billing cycle or that you are now accepting credit cards.

Being easy to do business with should be a cycle of continuous improvement. Each improvement in your customer experience- no matter how small- will grow your customer loyalty a little more. Occasionally, ask some of your best customers what you could do to serve them better or how you could better meet their needs. Always be on alert for how you can make your customers’ experiences better- and actually make those changes.

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