Customer Service: The Key Differentiator on Which Small Businesses Can Capitalize

laptopsThe convergence of two technologies, the Internet and social media, has empowered consumers as never before; add mobile to that equation and that power has become instantaneous ? available anytime and anywhere. This has dramatically shifted the balance from businesses to consumers, as most of the information on a product or service is readily available at one?s fingertips. The ability to compare prices, products and customer service before a purchase is made now means virtually every decision to buy something can be well informed.? And increasingly, customer service is the key differentiator when consumers make their decision on where to spend their money, which gives small businesses a fighting chance against their much larger competitors.

Appreciating Your Competition

It is a given small businesses can?t compete on price with the likes of Amazon or Walmart, and try as they may to deliver a personalized customer service, the sheer volume of customers these multi-national companies have makes it too expensive to go beyond the generic offering they provide. And that is where small businesses can really differentiate themselves. With the available technology in today?s marketplace, small businesses can deploy the same data driven solutions to aggregate the necessary information to start providing truly personalized customer service.

The beauty of today?s information and communications technologies (ICT) is they can be acquired by virtually anyone. Cloud computing now makes it possible to access software, infrastructure, platform, communications and even customer relationship management (CRM) on a hosted platform. What this means for the small business owner is, they can adopt solutions that can dramatically change how they interact with their clients to start providing superior customer service.

Knowing Your Strengths

As a small business one of the advantages you have over large companies is the ability to provide truly personalized service faster than any multinational could even dream of.? The 2015 CRM/Unified Commerce Survey by Boston Retail Partners (BRP), revealed 74 percent of the respondents indicated that customer experience/engagement is one of their top three priorities for 2015. Additionally, a whopping 883 percent more retailers plan to identify customers when they walk in the store within 5 years. This clearly highlights the need to deliver personalized experiences consumers are looking for.

While providing this type of service can be a very expensive proposition if you have tens of thousands of customers, the small business owner can hit the road running with minimal investment and careful deployment of the right technology.

A technology that can make all this possible is CRM, and if it is leveraged the right way, it can maximize your marketing and customer service capabilities while developing a strong relationship with past, present and future customers.

Customer Relationship Management Systems

The number of CRMs available to businesses can be overwhelming, and finding the right one requires a thorough study of what your company needs to improve the relationship you have with your customers. Whether it is a hosted service, off-the-shelf software or custom-made programming, the CRM platform you choose will depend on many different factors, including budget. That is why the best approach for small businesses is to try free and open source solutions. Once you master the CRM of your choice, you can opt for the paid version or find a different brand.

Free and Open Source Options

There is a difference between the two, and knowing that difference can determine how much access you will get when using the CRM. Free solutions can be open or closed source, meaning they are completely free or have limitation on how you can use the program. And the only way to access full functionality is by paying.

A truly open source solution provides full functionality of the application at no cost. Being open source, this generally means you have to configure the platform yourself, but some of platforms offer out of the box usability.

A list of the best free and open source CRM software solutions created by Capterra include the following, with no particular order: SuiteCRM, CapsuleCRM, Insightly, Really Simple Systems, FreeCRM, Bitrix24, Raynet, vTiger, ZohoCRM, Zurmo, Hubspot CRM, SalesBox, Sugar CRM, Splendid CRM, OpenCRX, EspoCRM, and Xtuple.

The goal of this article is to encourage small business owners to try a free CRM solution, which will eventually lead to improved relationships, higher customer retention and personalized customer service consumers now expect, without shelling out a single penny.