Small Potatoes Will Grow

Thinkstock single image collectionAs a small business owner, I see customer service from a whole new perspective. When I opened my business banking account, I received exceptional customer service – far better than I had ever received before. Now, it could be this particular bank’s branch, but the cynic in me thinks reps cater more to the business owners than the individual with a regular account.

Businesses tend to prioritize their customers. It’s not unreasonable to think bigger customers get better service, right? But, by providing less-than-stellar service to a smaller customer, are you assuming that that account will always be “small potatoes?”

Not always a good assumption.

Consider this situation: Joe is working with a company – let’s call them Company X – on a project. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a relatively small project for Company X, but for Joe, it’s an important project. So, imagine the frustration that ensues when Joe feels like he’s being treated like a tiny fish in a big sea.

Here’s the kicker: Joe now has the opportunity to bid on (and a very good chance to win) dozens of similar projects for another client. But, you can be sure that he’s going to look elsewhere. If Company X can’t properly support one project, how could Joe assume that they could manage a higher volume of work?

The point is this: Small potatoes won’t always be small potatoes. What may start out as a small piece of business has the potential to turn into a larger client. For those of us on the agency side of PR, how do we know a small retainer won’t grow into a larger one? How you treat someone when they’re “small” will make or break your chance to win this larger piece of work.

The question is: What steps can you take to provide solid customer service to your clients, whatever the size?

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  • Love this, Heather! You are absolutely right. Same goes for when working with media/bloggers. Don't ever treat a blogger or local writer like crap, or with less respect than you would a writer for the WSJ. Besides the fact that it's just the right thing to do, that person could one day be writing for a larger audience that is very important to you.

    I treat small clients with respect the same way. If you prioritize you time, and don't over commit, there is no reason you can't give all of your clients – regardless of size – the attention they deserve.

  • Lex_D

    I cannot agree with this post more (although I am a worker bee and not a small business owner). I'm not sure the first place I heard it, but I tend to stick with the mantra of “treat all your clients like they are your only client.” When a client is happy … EVERYONE is happy.

    I think this rings true on a number of levels. For example, what if you need to use a client as a reference in a proposal, or even on your resume?

    Nice post! 🙂

  • Truer words never spoken. I definitely remember all the companies that treated me nicely as a down-and-out college student. Why would I spend my now-disposable income on companies (including credit cards, banks, cell phone providers, airlines, etc.) who treated me like dirt when I was 19?

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  • heatherwhaling

    Excellent point!! I get that companies can't always provide top-tier service to every single customer, but they can't discount small ones either … not good for long-term business prospects.

  • heatherwhaling

    Alexis, excellent points! Love the mantra … more businesses should subscribe to that line of thinking!

  • heatherwhaling

    You're totally right to compare this to media. Especially with journalism's state of flux, there are so many changes happening. It's not that far-fetched to think that a smaller blogger could end up being a reporter at the NYT! You never know …

  • Travis

    re: “When I opened my business banking account, I received exceptional customer service – far better than I had ever received before. “

    I'm with you here. Ever since I opened up a new bank account for my rental property, the people at the bank have treated me MUCH nicer!

    Also, being in “Customer Service”, we prioritize customers, we simply have to. This is sad, but true.

    Great column!

  • mikeschaffer

    This is fantastic!

    The trick is to not look at the monthly retainer or hourly rate when working on a project. Business development and client service need to be compartmentalized within an agency – even if it's the same person doing both. Get the client on board and then give your best professional effort on the account!

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  • gravitygardener

    Client relationship development is a long term process and can allow a company to build trust and a strong bond with the customer long after the initial sale has taken place.

    If the organization does not see this area as a strategic component of their business, it will struggle to maintain long term clients and be pressed to find references for new opportunities.

    Gravity Gardener

  • Smart insights, Heather. I'll admit when I read the title of your post, it actually made me think of customer service in B2C and B2B companies. Guess there are several parallels where this idea replies. And you're agency example is right on as well.

    My friend @doylealbee told me something one time that really stuck with me — Every blogger has at least two people reading his/her post…the author and Google. Translation, any interaction you have with any person on any level can positively or negatively affect your brand reputation.

    Sometimes that “ROI on nice” (thank you Chris Brogan) is hard to measure. But the ROI on treating some clients like small potatoes is much easier to measure. Think P&L and the color red :).