I hesitated for some time about writing this article because I was concerned that some would perceive it as a shot against small businesses. It is not; rather, it is an attempt to help small businesses be successful, which many are not.
There seem to be a couple of different types of small businesses. One displays a national brand name but is operated by local people hoping to build a successful business based on favorable brand recognition. The second is a local business started by a parent and then passed down to the kids when they are ready.
From personal experience, the principal difference seems to be that those running the businesses in the second category feel a stronger sense of urgency to solve the problems of their customers, whereas those in the first category have less of a personal commitment and are relying on a brand built by someone far away.
Here are a couple of recent encounters with small businesses. Our front door handles are nearly 20 years old and look worn out. Our handyman purchased replacement handles and recommended that we engage a locksmith to install them and arrange for our keys to open the locks. We contacted a local locksmith and provided the details about the door handles and locks. They said they would have to order longer screws than were provided with the door handle sets because of the thickness of our doors. That was over a month ago. I call every couple of days and get told that the new screws haven’t been delivered, or that someone was supposed to call me to arrange a date for installation, etc. The bottom line is that we still don’t have new door handles installed. The owners and staff seem committed to doing a good job, but probably have more work than they can handle and aren’t structured to make sure the customers are taken care of as promised.
The other example has to do with our residential elevator and the national company that maintains it. I was stuck in the cab a few weeks ago and my wife called the fire department as well as the national elevator company. The fireman got me out and when the technician from the elevator company arrived a little later, we were advised that a “fix” was needed to ensure that no one would suffer a similar fate in the future. He said he would prepare a work order to schedule the minor repair. After a few days of silence, I called and was told that a technician would call the same day. That didn’t happen, so I called again and was told that they thought the work had been completed. Again, someone would be in touch the same day. We are still waiting. No one really seems to feel responsible for correcting the situation with the elevator and making certain we don’t get stuck in the cab again.
The motivation may be different in these examples, with one trying hard because it is their personal business and the other holding out a national brand name but not performing as advertised.
In each case the primary failure is not communicating with the customer and making it necessary for the customer to call to try to find out what the problem is and why the issue is not getting resolved. Small does not have to mean unresponsive. It should be a badge of personal commitment. That is how to build a successful business.