3 resolutions to get your small business off to a great start in 2016

Canada Post

Each January, the clean slate provided by the New Year inspires Canadians to assemble a list of personal resolutions to help improve their lives over the following months. As a small-business owner, now is a great time to set resolutions that will propel your business forward – resolutions worth sticking to!

The launch of a new year is a great opportunity to review your company’s progress and commit to positive, high-impact goals that build on what you’ve already accomplished, quickly taking your business to the next level.

Where do you want to see your business six months from now? What are your revenue goals? Do you have areas that could be more efficient? Perhaps it’s time to trim your expenses associated with labour, supplies and inventory?  What kind of new customers do you want to acquire, and does your marketing speak to those customers?

Here are three resolutions to consider to create success in 2016:

  • Resolution #1: Innovate the ways in which you engage with your customers, viewing them in terms of relationships, not transactions.
  • Resolution #2: Test, measure and apply learnings to ensure that you reach the right customer, at the right time, in the right way.
  • Resolution #3: Look for economies of scale and improve on operational efficiencies such as your fulfillment and shipping process.

Resolution #1: Keep on top of your customer service

Customer service is the lifeblood of any business. But, in the e-commerce era, it has taken on even greater prominence. By ignoring problems, and not meeting service issues head on, your business runs the risk of actually backsliding, and permanently damaging your brand.

Quality service isn’t about who is actually right, it’s about being willing to make things right. If you haven’t already, establish a crystal clear customer service policy and make sure that staff at all levels are thoroughly trained to implement it.

Talk to customers. What about adding live chat functionality to your e-commerce store? Having someone available to answer any online queries or challenges immediately is a fantastic way to engage with customers.

But why stop there? If you haven’t been paying attention to your social media accounts, now is the time to do so. Social media is all about interaction, and its immediacy makes it easier to spot and respond to negative customer experiences. It’s also a great way to provide advance notice of sales, upcoming events, or showcase your products!

Set service standards. Knowing that any disgruntled visitor can quickly turn into a detractor for its brand is what prompted Hyatt Hotels to institute a Twitter customer service handle, @HyattConcierge. With some 74,000 followers, it logs about 15,000 customer interactions per month. The target response time: 15 minutes or less.

While you may not be operating on this scale just yet, the opportunity for a personal, genuine, and relevant connection is right there. To help you get started, Twitter has created a detailed playbook highlighting best practices for businesses of all sizes interested in harnessing social media.

Businesses that instituted social media customer service capabilities saw year-over-year revenue per contact jump by 18.8% compared to those that didn’t, according to one study.

Resolution #2: Get to know your audience better

When it comes to marketing, “one-size-fits-all” seldom works over the long haul. Small businesses in particular need to ensure that they’re segmenting their audience, targeting them with campaigns and promotions that are specifically tailored to their needs.

Many entrepreneurs are so focused on gaining new customers that they fail to effectively address the need to retain those they already have. Truth is, you need both. This way, prospects become customers and customers become repeat buyers.

Segment your promotions. Whether it’s your direct mail campaigns, your web site’s landing pages, or your advertising placements, develop different messages to appeal to your top target groups.

If possible, identify key characteristics like whether a particular group contains early technology adopters, or those more concerned with green issues. Perhaps another tranche is more mature or particularly price sensitive. Shape your message for each, trying to identify one important driver.

A quick service restaurant, then, might market its take-out service to families for a quick dinner on games night while appealing to the university students around the block to visit for a later post-study snack with classmates.

Identify profit centres. Certain types of customers contribute more significantly to your bottom line than others. So, it only makes sense to focus on those who have the need and capacity to buy from you repeatedly.

Tailor your products and service to meet their specific requirements. Help them with reminders when service contracts need to be renewed, or when better deals present themselves.

Reward loyalty. The key is to run relevant promotions that reward customers, make them feel good about supporting your brand, and encourage them to get others to do the same.

Loyalty programs are a good way to encourage and acknowledge repeat business. In most instances, frequent customers earn points, which translate into some type of reward at certain levels. But perhaps you can innovate here?

Opting for surprise and delight rather than earning and redeeming, Panera Bread’s MyPanera program doesn’t emphasize how many purchases are needed for a reward –which range from complimentary items in the bakery-cafe to exclusive tastings and demonstrations.

What about testing a fee-based program that lets vital repeat customers bypass common purchase barriers? For $99 a year, for instance, Amazon Prime users get free, two-day shipping with no minimum purchase.

While it can be tough to match the brand power of Amazon, smaller companies can succeed. Dollar Shave Club has free (read built-in) shipping, sending a monthly supply of razors to its subscribers.

Options for small businesses continue to expand. PriceLocal allows local merchants to price-match Amazon Prime goods by shopper request and generates a coupon for shoppers to redeem much closer to home.

Resolution #3: Take a closer look at shipping

Shipping and timely order fulfilment are key to e-commerce. Getting things right the first time means higher levels of customer satisfaction – and increased future business. Intact, on-time deliveries help create a sense of trust between you and your customers, which could lead to repeat purchases down the road. To get there, consider the following:

Use less packaging. No matter what the size of the goods you’re shipping, try to reduce your packaging to a reasonable minimum, without risking in-transit damage. This helps you both reduce your carbon footprint and trim shipping costs along the way.

To avoid those extra charges, consider using the packaging provided by your chosen carrier. Otherwise, you run the risk of additional fees if your parcel or envelope exceeds set size regulations.

Extend shipping options. Make sure you’re meeting customer needs with both expedited and economy shipping options. Some customers prefer speedy delivery and are willing to pay extra for it. But most shoppers opt for reduced shipping costs and a subsequently longer delivery time.

If free shipping is offered, for instance, research shows that shoppers are willing to wait several days for their orders to arrive. If you do offer free shipping, however, be sure you know what can you afford to still remain profitable.

Provide delivery estimates. Online shoppers want to know potential shipping costs up front, and most want to see expected delivery dates as well. Consider integrating shipping data into your online retail platforms to stave off cart abandons.

While you may be tempted to pad, try to get things right from the outset. A less-than-precise estimate leaves customers in the dark, as if there was no estimate at all. Repeat buyers will notice and may lose faith.

Close the loop. Once a customer has made a purchase, there’s a good chance you can get them to make a subsequent one by using your shipping confirmation email as an outreach tool.

In addition to telling them that their order is en route, what about including a coupon code for their next purchase? Or reminding them of other products that you have available? According to one study, event-triggered emails, that include cross-sell items, have 20% higher transaction rates than those without.

To further drive engagement, why not follow up with a “How did we do today?” email asking them if they’re enjoying their purchase. If you want actual reviews though, you need to make it easy for customers – by providing a link to a review website, for instance.

Plan for returns. As you ship more goods, you’re also likely to receive a higher number of returns. It’s vital, therefore, to develop a plan to handle this eventuality.

Create a parcel return policy through Canada Post and your customers will be able to print return labels from its website or at post offices across the country. Your policies are activated almost immediately, require no website integration, and you’ll only be billed when a return label is used by your shopper.