One of the biggest competitive advantages that small business owners have over large companies is just that – they’re small. Many customers deliberately seek out businesses that can offer a more personal experience, a local person who understands them, and someone they can trust.
Building trust and loyalty with your customers should be top of your small business’ priority list, as they can become great advocates for the business. A base of loyal customers who keep coming back can be especially helpful during times when business, and cash flow, is slow and unpredictable.
That trust, though incredibly important to the relationship, can be easily broken if you aren’t careful. Even the smallest misstep can be counted against you.
Here are four all too common bad habits every small business owner should avoid in order to build trust, not break it:
Bad Habit #1: Making promises that rely on everything going to plan
Some business owners believe the only way to win the client is to promise perfection. They come across confident that everything will go to plan. The truth is, they know first-hand that projects rarely go perfectly to plan (and their prospective client knows this too). Failing to acknowledge this from the outset may lead your customer to doubt your integrity when the experience doesn’t match what was promised.
The best way to earn your clients’ trust is to be transparent about the process. Share the “ideal world” version of your plan and timeline, then run through the hurdles that could pop up along the way. Tell them what your backup plan will be if certain things happen. When hurdles do come up, tell your clients immediately so they always know what’s happening.
It’s also smart to build extra time into the project. If the time is needed, you’re covered. If the time isn’t needed, you come off the hero for getting the job done ahead of schedule.
Bad Habit #2: Skimping on the small details
Being a small business doesn’t mean you can avoid sweating the small stuff. When it comes to providing an estimate, the more detail the better. It can be tempting to give a rough number based on similar jobs you’ve done in the past, but your customers need to know exactly what they are paying for, what they can expect and what details aren’t covered. Billing and costs can be a sensitive area, so get everything out in the open for a discussion beforehand so no one is left feeling surprised.
That also means doing your homework ahead of time. The business owner who provides a general quote and then arrives at the site or receives the materials only to find more work is required, cannot then apply those extra costs without the risk of losing client trust. If you’ve quoted it, you must stand by it, so be sure you know exactly what is required and any special circumstances you may have to deal with.
Bad Habit #3: Being too slow to send invoices
It may be the last step of your project, but it’s one of the most important. No matter how flawless your service is, your customers will judge you on how professional your billing is and how easy you are to deal with when it comes to payment. It can be a real headache for the relationship when you have to chase payment long after the project is done.
Don’t leave your customers guessing. Use a mobile invoicing app that allows you to send professional invoices on the spot, while the work is still fresh in everyone’s mind. You’ll also be able to process online payments, an option customers are learning to expect from every business they deal with.
Bad Habit #4: Passing off after-care service
If you have always been the client’s main point of contact, be sure that is still the case with after delivery service, or be clear in explaining to them if that isn’t the case. Nothing erodes trust faster than a business owner who is there to take the money, but then not to around to solve problems that come up. The smartest business owners will see this as an opportunity to build the relationship further and a chance to secure repeat business.
The difference between building trust and breaking it can be small and nuanced in the business world. By understanding how even the smallest changes in process and behaviour can help nurture your relationships, you’ll be well equipped to build up a client base that keeps coming back for more.