A few weeks ago on the Small Business Bonfire community site, I shared a harrowing customer service tale about my interaction with a small business. I won’t rehash the entire story here, but here’s a brief synopsis for those who aren’t members yet:

I contacted a small merchant to ask a question about ordering their gift certificates online. It was a question not answered anywhere on the gift certificate page, and I needed an answer before I could complete the purchase. A couple of days later, I got a reply telling me “Of course we have gift certificates, you can find them here.” And the shop owner proceeded to give me a link to the page I had already visited.

She invited me to ask questions if I had any, but I was turned off immediately. I had asked a question in my original email, and it was ignored. I didn’t try again; I just moved on without making a purchase.

Several days later I got another email from the shop’s owner. Turns out she had taken my email address and added it to their newsletter mailing list without my permission. I hadn’t opted in, and I was angry. I unsubscribed from the list, noting that I was put on the list without my consent.

Here’s what’s got me thinking, though: If I had been dealing with a large chain or corporation, I’d have almost expected events to transpire the way they did. I’d have been irritated with them, too, no question. But I might have tried again, because somewhere in the back of my mind, I’ve just accepted that the Big Guys are bloated and inefficient and notoriously lazy about customer service. To get what I want from them takes perseverance, so I sometimes cave.

“Is this fair?” I wondered.

I asked for feedback from the Small Business Bonfire community to try and find out if small businesses are frequently held to higher customer service standards than the Big Guys. The members there not only know what they want as consumers, they also rely on good customer service to help them sell their services and products.

The Response

The topic generated a lot of feedback, but here are some very relevant comments for all of us small business owners to ponder:

John Bondon of TechnologyMan.com echoed my sentiments saying, “You were dealing with a smaller business.  If you had been emailing a larger corporation, we kinda expect that type of response.  But when you are dealing with a small business, you expect better personal service and more attention to detail.”

Victorio Chavarria at ScavaTec was more evenhanded, noting, “As a consumer, I’m not sure I expect better customer service from a small business. I expect some basic level of service from any business.”

Virtually On Demand’s Karen Taylor commented, “I do think small business owners are held to higher customer service standards and should be.”

Courtney Ramirez at Six Degrees Content wrote, “I think the problem is that many small businesses are strapped for time – they don’t think through the process from the consumer’s point of view.”

Your Turn

Now I’m opening the floor to you.

  • Should small businesses be held to higher customer service standards than big corporations?
  • Do you expect more personal attention from them?
  • Or do you cut them a little slack knowing small businesses owners are overextended?

Image credit: yarranz

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