Could your business offer something unexpected? May 2013

Wow Factor!One frustrating aspect of running a small business is trying to reach that point where you’ve developed a reputation that sets your venture apart from everyone else in your sector.

The problem with reaching this goal is that there is nothing you can directly say that will result in it happening. In fact, the harder you try, the more difficult it becomes.
For example, producing marketing messages that say you offer a “quality service”, “best advice” or “good food” tell your customers nothing at all about why they should buy from you. All you’re telling them is what they should expect as a bare minimum anyway.

So how can you develop a reputation where people sit up, take notice and do the talking for you, and where they spread the word to others about how good your product or service really is?
Your reputation boils down to how you act and behave in your market and the reaction you get from your customers. And this will be built around the experience that people have when they deal with your firm.

The first step is to try and put yourself in the position of someone who’s thinking of buying from you.

How do you come across overall? How easy is it to understand what you’re offering? Is it obvious why people should buy from you? How effective is your customer service before, during and after the sale?
Once you’ve done this and taken an honest and critical look at yourself, then ask yourself what you could do, how you could act, or what you could change to make your customers’ experiences even better.

By improving those experiences, even in small but subtle ways, such as making it easier to order, opening longer hours, allowing e-mail enquiries and so on, this will gradually begin to establish the reputation you are hoping for in the eyes of your customers.
But there are other things you can do that will make a real difference to your position in your market, in your local area or type of business. You need to look for ways to make your customer experience over and above what they were expecting.
This is where you should be striving to provide a service and experience that doesn’t just deliver what your product or service ‘says on the tin’, but surprises your customers with standards that go way beyond their expectations.
For example, if your business sells garden or house plants, your buyers will expect them to grow and produce flowers or bear fruit. If you fix broken PCs and laptops, your customers will expect them to work again. If you sell fresh food, everyone who buys your produce will expect it to taste good.

But what else can you offer that is over and above basic expectations and, wherever possible, will set you apart from your competitors? Can you find an opportunity to create a positive reputation with your customers by offering and delivering the unexpected?
So, in the case of selling plants, you could provide a series of useful free factsheets or a booklet that provides tips and advice on plant care, along with an e-mail gardening advice service that will establish your reputation as an expert in your field.

If you repair computers, they shouldn’t just work again when you’ve done the repairs. After a thorough ‘servicing’ and clean up, they should work better than they did before they developed problems, with customers also offered free telephone or e-mail support for a month to provide additional help and advice.
And if you are retailing fresh food, you would certainly get noticed if you offered a money-back guarantee to customers who buy something they have not tried before and aren’t satisfied with their purchase – or hold regular free buffets on a Saturday afternoon to allow people to taste your latest produce.

Spend some time thinking of ways to go that extra mile for your customers – they’ll quickly notice and begin to appreciate the difference, and will start spreading the word about your service. Then you’ll find that your prospects and target audience will travel that extra mile to buy from you and not your rivals.