Woman-Owned Small Businesses Put the Customer First

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1 Strategies for the Recovery: Woman-Owned Small Businesses Put the Customer First Sponsored by: Copyright Forbes

2 Key Findings The majority of women business owners have a customer service strategy: 55% do it on a case-by-case basis, and 18% have a formal strategy. 27% do not have a dedicated customer service strategy at all. The recession proved challenging for many woman-owned small businesses, but it has made them increasingly determined to build long-lasting relationships. Customer service and customer retention are top priorities for companies right now and in the next 12 months. While a number of woman-owned small businesses are using the Web and social media for customer service, many are still not taking full advantage of these channels; 25% of respondents do not have a company website and 24% do not use any social media tactics for their business. Traditional methods for customer service interaction still rule the day such as sending handwritten notes and interacting with customers via the phone. The stark realities of the recession caused many woman-owned small businesses to retreat, hunkering down against the forces that were battering their cash flow and drying up their sales pipelines. Postrecession, they are taking a customer-centric approach, making customer service a top strategic priority. While these woman-owned companies understand that customer service is crucial to their success, many do not have formal, timely strategies, preferring to deal with customers on a case-by-case basis. A large number are also not taking advantage of new, innovative customer service channels that could be used to set their businesses apart. To gain a clearer understanding of the attitudes of woman-owned small businesses towards customer service, Forbes Insights, in association with KeyBank s Key4Women program, surveyed owners and executives at 320 U.S. woman-owned small businesses (with annual revenues up to $10 million). Time and again, respondents cited the importance of customer service. Most of those surveyed are relying heavily on tried-andtrue customer service methods, eschewing online methods to enhance loyalty and engagement. Yet they may be losing ground to those companies that are using social networks and the Web to interact with customers. Many that are using these channels may be doing so to think more strategically about customer service. The customer is first, but the strategy is not Still reeling from the impact of the recession, many womanowned small businesses have kept customer service at the top of their list of strategic priorities, knowing that retaining their current customers will be crucial to their recovery. Asked about their strategic and operational priorities for the past 12 months, woman-owned small businesses chose customer retention (38%) and customer service (36%). Looking ahead to the next year, prospecting and sales rose to the top spot (36%), with retention (35%) and service (33%) close behind. (Fig. 1) There seems to be very little strategy on the part of these small companies to formalize their customer service efforts. Only 18% of those surveyed have a dedicated customer service strategy. More than half of those surveyed (55%) address customer service on a case-by-case basis and 27% said they don t have any kind of a customer service plan. (Fig. 2) These numbers send a clear message about the place that most of these small businesses are in they understand the importance of customer service, but don t have a clear Copyright Forbes

3 Figure 1. What are your company s top strategic and operational priorities? Figure 2. Does your company have a dedicated customer service strategy? Customer retention 38% 35% 18% Customer service Prospecting/sales 36% 33% 33% 36% 27% 55% Yes, we have a formal, company-wide customer service/support strategy Yes, we do it on a case-bycase basis No Cost containment 22% 30% Maximizing profitability/cash flow Increasing productivity/efficiency Marketing Growth and expansion 15% 22% 27% 30% 32% 28% 22% 27% Past 12 months Next 12 months Best Practice PriscillaWoolworth.com: Mixing personal and virtual Priscilla Woolworth, a fourth generation member of the Woolworth clan, is now aiming to imitate her famous family s success in a unique way. She launched her namesake website in 2009 as an eco-friendly e-commerce general store that sells everything from kids toys to cleaning products. Woolworth prides herself on customer service and satisfaction. She sends a monthly e-newsletter to her customers with new products, and tips for staying green. The newsletter also appears on her e-commerce site. She has a blog where she writes about sustainable solutions, posts juice recipes and advertises upcoming sales. I want my customers to know who I am and what I am about and also be able to reach me whether they are dialing my toll-free telephone number, tweeting me questions or ing me, said Woolworth. vision of how to implement it. But taking a passive approach to customer service planning could make them vulnerable to competitors that have more aggressive or more clearly thought-out loyalty and service programs. Vanetta Chesbro Wilson, CEO of the Chesbro Music Company, struggled during the economic downturn with excess inventories and customers whose decisions were being based entirely on prices. Instead of reeling from the day-to-day customer service issues, Wilson was motivated by the downturn to update her customer service strategy. The last couple of years have been really tough, said Wilson. But we are focusing increasingly on the needs of our customers and have started hosting focus groups for our customers to increase our customer service. It s paid off in sales and has increased loyalties. Focusing on current customers Given the current economic conditions, most small business owners are focusing their efforts on retaining their existing customers rather than hunting for new ones. Conventional wisdom holds that it is less costly to hold on to a current customer than find a new one, and the survey results show that woman-owned small businesses are maintaining that position. Two-thirds (66%) of respondents disagreed with the idea that a decline in their sales pipeline had caused them to focus more on new customers. (Fig. 3) And nearly threequarters (74%) said they do not think that new customers are more profitable than existing customers. It s a defensive strategy, but these small businesses should Copyright Forbes

4 Figure 3. Prospecting or retention? New customers are generally more profitable than existing customers A decline in our sales pipeline has had us focus more on new customers Figure 4. Maintaining customer relationships We need to maintain relationships with past customers Customer relationships are all we have; without them we wouldn t have a business Strongly agree Agree Don t know Disagree Strongly disagree Strongly agree Agree Don t know Disagree Strongly disagree be cautious of young start ups out there who are waiting in the wings to steal customers. Jenny Lam, who co-founded the software company Jackson Fish Market based in Seattle three years ago said, We are doing well and growing. Most importantly we are trying to be an innovator for our clients. We communicate to our potential clients that we are going to do something for them that is better than what anyone else can do. Building a long-term relationship Customer loyalty is clearly a priority for woman-owned small businesses. These companies are valuing clients who will stay with them for better or for worse, according to those surveyed 84% said that customer relationships were all that they had, and were at the very core of their business. (Fig. 4) It s also important for most of the companies surveyed (88%) to maintain a relationship with their past customers. Chesbro Music s Wilson backed this up. The majority of our customers have been with us for over ten years, she said. We have a high retention rate of customers because we listen to their needs. Roberta Winchell, an attorney based in Bangor, Maine, said that she cultivates long-lasting relationships by never doing a hard sell, and always being available to listen. I have clients that just drop by my office to talk, she noted. I don t want to have the kind of business where it seems like money is my primary motivator. I tell my clients the truth, and I don t take clients on who I don t believe that I can help. Figure 5. Which of the following customer service features do you currently have on your company s website? Offline contact information for customer service questions Dedicated customer service address A place to sign up for information, offers, etc. FAQs related to customer service issues A place where customers can make suggestions Dedicated customer service link Customer message boards/product reviews Live chat/messaging with customer service rep None 5% 9% 11% 15% 14% 18% 31% 30% We do not have a company website 25% 47% Are woman-owned businesses missing the virtual revolution? Customer service frequently requires companies to have active programs at each point where they touch their customers. That s why many larger companies have been Copyright Forbes

5 Figure 6. How do you use the following online and social media for business purposes (i.e., not for personal reasons)? Blogs Publish a blog Twitter Read tweets Post tweets 16% Post to/comment on blogs 14% Read blogs a blog Track mentions of our company on blogs 13% 24% Interact with customers via Twitter LinkedIn Have personal profile on LinkedIn Have a company profile on LinkedIn Sponsor a LinkedIn community Publish an newsletter 16% 28% Have an list for special offers 37% customers/prospects at least monthly 8% 42% 3% 18% 17% 16% they do not currently have a company website. And while the majority of the respondents do have a corporate online presence, they are not necessarily using them for customer service. Only 47% said they list their offline contact information for customers. More innovative Web-based customer service solutions (such as a live chat or messaging with customers) are even rarer among the companies surveyed. Only 5% of those surveyed have those services available to customers. Considering how cost-effective using the Web can be for small businesses, it s surprising that they aren t taking advantage of all that it has to offer. (Fig. 5) Jackson Fish Market s Lam has thought about her company s website a great deal. We are trying to be authentic to our core, she said. Our website does a really great job of thinking about everything in order to communicate what we are about. From the look of the website, to an abundance of fun content, to software the company has created that visitors can try, to a dedicated password protected area for clients Lam considers her company s website to be a central element in her business. Track mentions of our company on Twitter 9% Facebook Use personal Facebook page for business 27% Other We do not use any of these tactics 24% Social networking is just not for me Social networking has the potential to be a powerful customer service tool, particularly for small businesses with small budgets. Currently, a small percentage of the companies surveyed are using LinkedIn (37%), Facebook (27%), Twitter (17%), or blogging (16%). (Fig. 6) Have a company page on Facebook Have a company/product fan page 17% Encourage third-party fan pages 8% 19% 0% 50% 0% 50% experimenting with social media (such as Facebook or Twitter) and mobile channels to enhance their customer service and improve customer engagement. A sizable number of woman-owned small businesses surveyed are failing to take advantage of these emerging channels. A quarter (25%) of the companies surveyed said Best Practice Chesbro Music: Generations of Loyalty Chesbro Music is a fourth generation family business and a second-generation woman operated business to boot. CEO Vanetta Chesbro Wilson, who took over the company reigns from her mother, said the recession could have crippled her business, particularly because she acts as a wholesaler to many smaller music retailers around the country who have been devastated by the downturn. In response to the recession Wilson decided to hold focus groups for her customers so she could learn more about their needs directly. It s really worked for us, said Wilson. We ve learned a lot from our customers about their current needs and have instituted a lot of their suggestions. Wilson also started education programs for her customers. We have started to hold seminars on merchandising and distributions our customers success is directly tied to ours. We need them to succeed. Copyright Forbes

6 Figure 7. Tracking social media I regularly track blogs, tweets or Facebook postings to learn what our customers are saying about us Strongly agree Agree Don t know Disagree Strongly disagree For some women business owners, social media s payoff is unclear. It s not that I don t know how to use Twitter. I do, said Winchell. All of this social networking stuff is just not right for my business. Winchell instead relies entirely on word of mouth to promote her law practice. She passes out business cards at local events and has a small ad in the phone book. For customer service purposes, social media hold another significant benefit they make it easier for companies to find out what is being said about them by their customers. But if woman-owned small businesses are not tracking these virtual conversations, they are likely missing out on finding out what their customers are sharing. 29% of those surveyed actively track blogs, tweets or Facebook postings related to their companies. (Fig. 7) This customer service channel can provide a wealth of information. Mia Bauer, co-founder of Crumbs Bake Shop in New York City, said that her customers regularly tweet about what cupcakes in her stores they like, which they don t, and experiences in her stores (good and bad). This feedback has been vital to the growth of her business particularly because she has been paying attention to it. My customers are a vocal bunch, said Bauer. It would be stupid for us as a growing company to not pay attention to what they are saying about us, especially because our competitors have access to the information. Figure 8. What customer service and customer loyalty programs are you currently using? Personalized services Offering a little something extra Handwritten notes Product or service guarantees Monitor customer purchase activity Feedback forum 75% 23% Rewards program 63% 16% Sneak previews 63% 14% Client-only website 49% 13% Frequent buyer program 44% 13% Customized content Customer e-newsletter Customer newsletter Triggered coupons 41% 11% Customer council 31% 8% Win-back programs 29% 5% Toll-free customer service line 25% Copyright Forbes

7 Sticking with the tried and true So what customer service tactics are woman-owned businesses using? Many potentially effective loyalty tactics (such as rewards programs or triggered coupons) are being eschewed in favor of more casual programs (such as personalized services or handwritten notes). (Fig. 8) Priscilla Woolworth, who runs the online eco-friendly general store bearing her name, PriscillaWoolworth.com, said it has been important to her success to offer her loyal customers special benefits. I have a frequent buyer program where certain returning customers either get a discount or free shipping. I also offer special sales to my existing customers. These offerings have helped to create a loyal stable of customers who regularly return to my site to shop. Another red flag: failing to track customers The casual way many woman-owned small businesses treat customer service strategies extends to the ways they measure it as well. Few businesses appear to be using formal service metrics, relying instead on those that may be more obvious. For example, 56% use the length of a customer relationship as a primary service success metric, and nearly half (48%) of the businesses surveyed cited word of mouth. Other methods that require more detailed analyses, such as website traffic (12%), revenue per client (24%) and customer satisfaction metrics (20%) were considered far less important. (Fig. 9) What may be more surprising is that most of the womanowned businesses surveyed do not have state-of-the-art systems in place to keep track of their customers. About Figure 9. What are the top ways you measure the success of your customer service efforts? Length of customer/client relationship References/recommendations Word of mouth Revenue per client Customer/client satisfaction metrics Brand reputation Traffic to website Number of complaints Fans on Facebook 3% Comments on my blog 1% Followers on Twitter 1% We do not measure our customer service efforts 7% 12% 11% 16% 20% 24% 48% 56% 55% Best Practice Crumbs Bake Shop: Tracking Customer Feedback Mia Bauer is an unlikely cupcake guru. A former lawyer, she always had a love for baking and decided to quit the world of law for the cupcake business in She opened her first store in the Upper West Side of New York, and her NYC empire will now expand into the DC and Chicago markets. Bauer thinks about customer service from all angles. We always ask for customer feedback, it is very important to us, Bauer added. I think that people appreciate that we take their advice and use it, people can even suggest new cupcakes for us to bake. Facebook and Twitter are central to Bauer s customer service strategy. After being besieged with cupcake suggestions from customers Bauer decided to have a name your own cupcake contest on Twitter. She started a Facebook campaign and encouraged customers to post their dating stories that involved Crumbs cupcakes. Both initiatives have only added to the growing cult of the brand. Bauer also uses these virtual tools to answer customer questions. Crumbs Bake Shop now has more 20,000 fans on Facebook and over 3,700 followers on Twitter. Customers that engage with the brand in this way are also occasionally rewarded, which encourages participation. Bauer randomly selects one of her Twitter followers every month and sends them a half a dozen cupcakes. Copyright Forbes

8 Figure 10. How does your company currently keep track of customer data such as contact information, order history, interactions, etc.? Customer lists kept in address book/ contact program Customer lists kept in spreadsheets Database program Contact management software Integrated customer relationship management program Other 5% 7% 12% 16% 15% We do not use software to keep track of customer data 14% 32% a third (32%) are simply using computer address books or contact programs to keep track of their customers most basic information. Only 7% of those surveyed are using contact management software (such as ACT), and only 5% are using integrated customer relationship management programs. (Fig. 10) A surprising 14% don t use software to record customer data. Best Practice Jackson Fish Market: Making the Web Work Jenny Lam left Microsoft in 2007 to co-found Jackson Fish Market with two other Microsoft veterans, Hillel Cooperman and Walter Smith. Their aim was to create software experiences for the Web that are designed to be sponsored exclusively by an advertiser. Considering Lam s software design experience, it s no wonder that the Jackson Fish Market website is both simplistic and entirely engaging. The trio landed on the name Jackson Fish Market because it was the name of Cooperman s grandfather s fish market that was started in Detroit in Lam designed the banner of her company s website to play on that nostalgia and it depicts a fictional Jackson Street. Lams said, When it starts getting dark in Seattle you ll see the stores will close up and the flowers go in the shop and the street lamps turn on and there is a moon out in the sky it s quite adorable. When the company is working on launching a product there is also construction on the street. We want the website to depict the mom and pop feel of our company, said Lam. Lam regularly blogs on her company s website (it is central to the site s design) on topics ranging from software launches to food and restaurants. Nothing about the blog makes it seem like a hard sell and it factors into the overall goals of Jackson Fish Market to make the company enjoyable for customers from the beginning to the end of the experience. Companies should never think of their website as an afterthought. It s a huge component of how your customers perceive you, said Lam. Methodology The information in this report is based on the results of a survey and a series of one-on-one interviews conducted by Forbes Insights in March Forbes Insights, in association with Key Bank s Key4Women program, surveyed 320 woman-owned small businesses in the U.S. All companies had to be more than 50% woman-owned, and have annual revenues of $10 million or less. Of the firms surveyed, 65% had revenues of $1 million or less, and 35% had revenues of $1 million to $10 million. 88% of respondents held the title of owner, and 6% said they were president or CEO. Christiaan Rizy Director Stuart Feil Editorial Director Brenna Sniderman Research Director Leah Bourne Writer Copyright Forbes

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