Small business has many challenges competing with their larger competitors, especially when it comes to digital marketing, customer service and often even pricing. But there are advantages that small business has over their larger rivals if they know how to execute them.

How many times have you visited a large brand website and tried to get live help, only to be served up some jibberish from some automated chatbot? Or maybe you have had to call customer service about your bill, only to be looped into automated hell without the ability to easily get to a live person? Or worse, how many times have you tried to contact a large brand about something you have on order, and been unable to navigate their automated phone system to get real help?

You’re not alone. Many of your larger competitors don’t do a great job of being human. If it’s happening to you, you can rest assured that it is also happening to others. You can also be sure that your competitors are likely doing similar things to your target customers.

But isn’t customer service actually a form of marketing?

We Don’t Like Automation As Much As We Pretend

One advantage that larger brands have over small to medium brands is their ability to leverage costs and scale of customer service with automation. But to customers really like this kind of automation? According to a recent study conducted by Vonage, they really don’t.

Here is some of what the study discovered:

1 – Poor Customer Experience

Consumers prefer live help with customer serviceOver 61% of consumers say that reaching an IVR (or Interactive Voice Response phone system) menu when calling a business creates a poor customer experience.

In fact, 64% of consumers described having negative feelings such as frustration (47 percent), stress (7 percent) and anger (6 percent) when presented with an automated phone system. 17% reported ‘no particular emotion’, with only a small percentage feeling hopeful and positive (8 and 4 percent respectfully).

This is something many of us can relate to, especially when our reason for making contact with the company is something other than making a quick payment or checking a balance. If we are attempting to make a purchase decision or need something more technical when calling a brand, an automated phone system does not create a positive brand interaction.

2 – Abandoning The Business

The Vonage study also revealed that more than half (51%) of consumers have completely stopped doing business with a brand after reaching an automated menu of options.

In fact, it was discovered that of those customers who completely abandoned a business as a result of an IVR menu, 89% of the money they would have spent with that business, was spent with a competitor, which equated to around $262 per customer every year. It is way more costly to acquire a new customer than it is to retain and get additional orders from an existing customer. Many larger brands are losing sight of this fact today.

This should be something that every small to medium business listens to. Customers want answers and making access to answers challenging for them has significant consequences. On the flip side, crafting your brands’ customer service strategy in a way that makes easy tasks quick and more complicated needs readily accessible will pay dividends.

How To Take Advantage Of Customer Service

It is extremely important for smaller businesses to utilize expected technologies that customers have come accustomed to in order to make their interaction with your brand faster and easier, however, understanding the data within this recent study should outline some opportunities for your brand to shine.

Here are a few tips that smaller brands should follow in order to out-execute their competitors on customer service:

1 – Do It AND Show It

We often work with our clients to ensure that the superior customer service that they are providing over their competitors is not just something that they say, but something that is tangible. What we mean by that is ensuring that their Google and social pages that allow for customer reviews are in fact being completed by happy customers and visible online. We ensure that customer experience and superior customer service is a part of their marketing and messaging, which naturally attract customers.

If you don’t believe customer service is marketing, I highly recommend that you read my article that gives you a dramatic example of how it is.

2 – Offer Appropriate Automation

Make life easy for your customers by implementing an appropriate level of automation that allows them to do what they need to do quickly and easily, but also be sure that you give them access to a human more readily than your larger competitors. This differentiation is clear and appreciated to most consumers.

3 – Make Information Available

We work with our clients to develop online systems and functions that make access to information easier for their customers. This has two distinct advantages when done properly. 1) First and most obvious is that if you provide the information that a prospective customer needs to make a purchase decision easily, that will reduce the need for them to ask questions and be disappointed with your automation. 2) Equally as important is by detailing information about your brand, your products and services properly online, there are additional advantages for search placement and new customer discovery that will increase traffic and drive additional leads and sales to your business.

4 – Empower Your People

Many of the worst customer service experiences are due to a lack of empowerment. Give your people the authority and responsibility to handle your customers’ needs. Ensure that they are trained and not relying on phone scripts, but instead, teach them to listen and understand what a customer needs and deliver.

If your business recognizes the challenges that customers are having with getting answers and the help that they need from your competition, you will naturally improve your human interactions with your customers and make gains on your competitors’ market share. But the easiest rule to use is the Golden Rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. You know what isn’t a pleasant customer service experience when YOU are the customer, so be sure that your brand isn’t providing that poor experience to your customers either.