Small Business

Word of mouth

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What I am about to write affects everyone who walks into shops to buy things or employs service providers to complete tasks. And on the flip-side, this is also for those who are expected to deliver those goods and services.

The simple story is – if you are in business – lift your game. If you are a consumer, don't assume it will happen. In fact, the best advice is – never assume anything when dealing with people in business.

As a small business owner myself, I know this advice appears unbelievably treacherous, but in both my dealings with other businesses as both a business and as a consumer, the prevailing attitude of too many business owners seems to be that the dollars involved in a disputed transaction are more important than future dollars that can be earned by everyone talking about you as a professional and accommodating trader.

I met someone recently at a car launch function who raved about a dealer he had bought a car from and had experienced exceptional service.

The man was nothing more than a consumer, but was a walking, talking billboard for this man's business. I have put that business into my mental hard disk for the next time I want to buy a car.

On the other hand, I have had some disgusting experiences with some businesses. Some have been so bad I have ended up taking them to the consumer claims tribunal, which is an excellent organisation.

However, don't go here looking for justice if you haven't got evidence of under-performance by a trader or business. Also, if you get expert witnesses to support your case, be certain that you get sworn evidence, such as a statutory declaration signed by a Justice of the Peace (JP) – if you can find one.

This is where the ‘assume nothing’ advice comes in and you can use this in many situations: hiring staff, using a contractor – or even when you're a consumer.

When hiring someone to do work, specify as much of the job as possible. Think of all the things that could go wrong and ensure the person involved knows exactly what you want. Put down your expectations and get them signed by the person you are contracting.

I recently had something repaired. A part of its faulty condition was a light which told me it was not working properly. When it was ‘fixed’, the light was still not on but the product was working.

Asked why the light was not repaired while the very expensive job was done, the manager said I should have told them then the light was not working! Assume nothing.

Even a Fair Trading Minister warned NSW businesses to lift their customer service standards.

“Although business managers consistently place customer satisfaction on the top of the list of factors they believe directly affect their business success, many consumers feel businesses are only playing lip service to  the concept,” the then Minister said.

After being screwed by a bad business, the only comeback a consumer has, aside from the Consumer Claims Tribunal, is to tell everyone they meet how hopeless the business is.

The threat of this punishment should make every sane business owner realise that sometimes you have to take a step back to take two steps forward.

Treat customers in a way that you would have them talk about you to others.

Published on: Wednesday, September 23, 2009

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