When Baby Boomers consider striking out on their own, they are more than likely to start a service business. While it may be self-evident, the focus of a service business should be on the concept of “service.”
These are the fundamental principles of a service business:
- Set the tone for a successful relationship from the very beginning by showing clients their continuing business is important to you.
- Find ways to make clients feel important and special. Always be authentic in showing that you care about your clients. Even little things can make a big difference.
- Communicate with clients periodically. Provide them with information of value that relates to your service and it will keep your business top of mind.
- Monetary profit is important, but so is “psychic profit.” Consider using a service business for a different kind of service – to serve your community. Community service has its own rewards that you can share together, and it may even pay you back in unexpected ways.
2nd Act Entrepreneurship
To transition from full-time professional careers into the next phase of our lives, my wife Sharon and I ran a service business – mobile dog grooming – for over six years. She was the dog groomer and I handled the business and marketing behind the scenes.
All of the little things we did – leaving a grooming “report card” after a groom, offering a gourmet dog treat, sending a reminder email, offering discounts for referrals, presenting clients with a holiday gift, whatever it might be – were designed with one thing in mind: Providing the best service possible to each client. We felt that little things would make a big difference.
You may legitimately wonder if all the attention we gave to existing clients paid off. Without question, we think it did. Investing in keeping clients happy – and maintaining their business for as long as possible – made a lot of sense to us. The ongoing business of these clients was directly responsible for the success of our business, not just because they kept coming back year after year, but also because of their value as an indirect sales force for our business. We had a very high client retention rate over the years, and we saw the direct impact our existing clients had on new client acquisition via referrals. The satisfied clients who continued to do business with us helped make it almost unnecessary for us to invest marketing dollars in new client acquisition. Most of our business came from word of mouth.
We may have operated a small business, but to us, that business needed to provide a level of service that was no less than that of a world-class service company. In this case, size doesn’t matter – the quality of the service does. That meant knowing our clients very well, understanding what they (and their dogs) needed from us, and delivering it in a high-quality manner, consistently, time after time.
Exceptional Customer Service
We are students of customer service and admire those companies that use service to set themselves apart from others. Both of us, for instance, are enthusiastic customers of Amazon.com and have been for years.
Amazon demonstrates its service day in and day by virtually always having the product you want at an attractive price and delivering it when you want it. Amazon’s order acknowledgment and fulfillment system keep you fully informed of exactly when you can expect delivery and of any unanticipated delays. The recommendation engine, pioneered by Amazon, serves up other products you may be interested in based on your purchase. These are all elements of exceptional service that distinguishes Amazon from most other companies.
Even though Amazon is an online behemoth and our business was just a speck in comparison, we looked to Amazon’s customer service principles as the model for exceptional customer service. Tiny though we were in comparison to Amazon, our attitude toward service was the same. The service we provided was made up of several components: maintaining a lot of accurate information about our clients that we could put to good use, professionally communicating with clients both prior to and after the service was provided, using high quality grooming products and offering a great service in a high performance mobile grooming van, having an experienced, personable and professional individual who performed the service, and meeting or exceeding each client’s expectations.
Even with this attitude, however, we noticed something that occurred after several years in business. Sometimes you can become complacent. Paradoxically, you tend to take for granted your most valued clients – the ones with whom you do business repeatedly. You assume, after a while, that they’ll just keep coming back. That makes it easy to slack off just a little bit. You actually may tire of them, because you provide the same service over and over and again and it can become somewhat boring. A new client, on the other hand, is fresh and different, so that client may seem more exciting.
Be wary of this! It is a very dangerous mistake that businesses make. In fact, even large companies are guilty of treating their existing customers with benign neglect while they offer prospects special incentives and handle new customers differently. Think about how that makes you feel as an existing customer!
Most businesses tend to have a relatively small percentage of clients – typically about 20 percent – accounting for the majority of the revenue. It is essential to identify this handful of clients, continue to meet their needs, and keep them satisfied. These core clients deserve special treatment for their loyalty; they are really the backbone of the business. It is their ongoing support and referrals that make all the difference. Never make the mistake of taking them for granted. Without these core clients, there would be no business.
We tried to demonstrate that we cared about our clients in each and every interaction with them – before, during and after each “service call” we made. Sure, not every client is a pleasure to deal with, and some of them can be quite demanding. But we always reminded ourselves that without our clients, we would have no business, so we took pride in serving their needs. That not only made our clients feel good about our business, it made us feel good about owning and operating a business together. We took pride in the little business we built and the service that our clients valued.
In a service business, being authentic and caring about clients trumps everything else.
Barry Silverstein is the co-author of the new book, Let’s Make Money, Honey: The Couple’s Guide to Starting a Service Business.
Note from Marc Miller:
Barry asked me to write a review for his book on Amazon. After reading the book, I wished I had this kind of resource available before I started my service business.
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