Managing customer service in a large versus small business

Some things are easier, some harder for small companies

Similarities and Differences Between Delivering Customer Service As A Small Business Vs. A Large One: Large Or Small, Customer Service And How It Relates To Size

Comment: Find out how it’s different to manage the customer service function in a very large business versus a small one. There are certainly some things that are easier in each of these sized businesses, but the really fascinating issue is one that’s been often discussed elsewhere: What advantages and disadvantages to small businesses have when it comes to competing on customer service with the much larger, and deep pocketed corporations of the world.

By Leonard Buchholz

During a recent interview an author asked me about the difference between managing Large and Small Customer Service operations and the pros and cons of both. It started me thinking about how they differ and how it relates to Customer Service and Management.

Small, Pros.

1. In a small organization, you know people on a more intimate basis. You see them every day; know their family history, what’s happening in their lives, the name of their pet goldfish. (It’s “Goldie”)

2. You are able to see and react to changes in your personnel much faster and able to take action faster.

3. You can really watch a person’s growth and career and be a part of it.

4. It’s a closer, tighter relationship in many cases. You feel involved.

5. It’s easy to spot when something is awry with a policy or procedure.

6. Your Customers know you and your staff and hopefully you know them by name.

7. Turnover may be less if it is not a “retail” type atmosphere. (Fast food, box store, car wash, expensive coffee with Italian names)

8. One on One interaction has real meaning as you really know this person and their goals, needs, wants and desires.

9. It’s easier to maintain a “fun yet professional” atmosphere.

10. You and your Customer get the best of the Small Customer Service Department.

Small, Cons.

1. In small organizations, you know everyone on a more intimate basis. If they come in late, smelling like booze and have a hangover all day, you live with it. Because you are small, you can’t just send them home, so you send them into the back room or to help “Mary in the business office.” You lose their “contribution to the common good” for that day. You must be prepared to take over in emergencies. (Most of you do already)

2. You sometimes do not take action for fear that it may send your staff into whole new performance dimension called a “Case of Ass.” It’s where they sit around all day on their ass, complaining and whining because you chewed them out on a performance issue or told them to “stop messing around and get to work.” Sometimes a “Case of Ass” becomes a “Case of Stayathomeitis” a condition where the employee calls in sick the day after being chewed out. In any case you lose their performance for a day or two, which sucks as you have to carry the extra load. After your star employee returns, have a real heart to heart and tell them your expectations are and ask theirs.

3. You can watch a person’s career and growth and suddenly realize that 20 years from now “Mr. or Ms. Underachiever” is not going to be any better then than he or she is today. All the money you put into that person in training and incentives would be better off spent on designing new “post its” with your company logo.

4. You can feel so “involved” that you want a “divorce” and treat your working relationship as a marriage. That includes all that fun stuff like “You are a Moron and I hate you” attitude that sometimes develops when we become too involved. Be aware that being involved means addressing issues as they come along, not when it’s time for the lawyers. Also, you may want to maintain a distance (Not unfeeling or uncaring), just professional.

5. It is easy to spot something when it has gone awry and guess what, so does everyone else including your Best Customer. In small organizations, small things add up to big things very quickly. You need to be more on your toes.

6. Everyone knows everyone, how cozy. And all of their business too, not so cozy. Especially if you have a busybody type in the office. It’s so important to have good ground rules. One that works well is the “What you see here, say here, do here stays here when you leave here and whenever you talk with the Our Customer Be Professional” rule. It is Nobody’s business but yours what is going on behind the curtain.

7. Turnover may be less and that can lead to “small shop mentality” or as I like to call it “We’ve always done it this way because we don’t know any better” thinking. (waditwbwdkab for short) It is important to send people to outside training even though it’s “too expensive and I’ll have to do their job while they are gone.” (teaIhtdtjwtag for short) Believe me when I say it’s far better to have new knowledge than to plod along with waditwbwdkab knowledge.

8. One on One interactions can be a major pain if that person and you have not established a real coach/mentor/mentee relationship. And, if your personnel have not had any real breakthroughs or continued with recommendations you have agreed upon, it can lead to periods of awkward silence and feelings of frustration. Set the parameters of your expectations and ask theirs.

9. Sometimes a “fun yet professional” atmosphere gets carried away. It becomes more fun than work getting done. (think practical jokes gone wild) Keep the “Professional” attitude in all that you do.

10. You and your department do give the best and worst of small Customer Service organizations. Know your limitations and your responses and teach them to all that work in your organization. Have a “positive intent” towards your Customers.

Large, Pros.

1. Large organizations have extra personnel or at least personnel that are cross trained and can carry an extra load or two for a day without breaking a sweat. Nice, isn’t it. (Not always true these days)

2. It can be a real challenge managing larger groups and it gives you a chance to stretch your limits. If you are in a larger Customer Service Dept. you can expect to have opportunities to prove yourself.

3. Many large organizations have established procedures and policies to address everything from how to greet to what time to take a break. It’s not too difficult to follow along as long as you know the rules.

4. There are more people which can mean more opportunity. People leave and someone has to step up, don’t they? Why not you?

5. Larger organizations have things called BUDGETS and if you want something you can get a BUDGET for it. It’s all in knowing when and how to ask. True professional Managers have this down to a science and know exactly what will fly and what won’t.

6. Customers have a certain level of expectation when dealing with larger organizations. Here is a real secret. If you go out of your way to treat them with a “personal touch” you will win Loyal Customers and they will tell everyone.

7. It’s easy to get people trained, as there most likely is a HR or Training Dept. that is involved with getting personnel up to speed as quick as possible. If your HR Department or Training is on top of it, it goes very smooth. (Say it with me, “HR are our Friends!”)

8. As a manager you can expect to be interacting constantly as you are most likely either writing or conducting a performance evaluation or counseling session. It is a really good feeling when you work with someone and see progress and know that you had a hand in making that happen.

9. In larger organizations there is always a fallback position you can go to. It’s because there have been plenty of people in those shoes and most likely will lend a hand when you need help. Build bridges and lines of communication.

10. It can be really Synergistic when it all comes together.

Large, Cons.

1. Large organizations do have extra personnel, however, they may not be trained at all or even know what their real job is, much less helping you out in a pinch. Be prepared to provide close supervision and training for “replacement Bob.”

2. It is a real challenge managing larger groups especially if you have not taken the time to lay some real ground rules. And told everyone. Again and again. Because we all know that in order to get everyone to listen you have YELL REALLY LOUD and document like crazy to prevent the “You never told me” and “I didn’t know” in larger organizations. (If you have to yell really loud, you are not managing, you are just giving everyone a reason to flip you off when you are not looking) The key here is to become transparent, install effective ground rules, become completely open in communications and listen twice as much as you talk.

3. Established policies and procedures can be a real PITA! Some of them are written in response to Darwinism behavior and moronic actions of people from the planet Stupidia. I can certainly understand the existence of these rules and the reason behind them. As you go along in your career in these organizations, make note of the policies and procedures that get in the way of the one person you exist to serve, I’m talking about your Customer! The one person we are in business to support! If there is a policy or procedure that gets in the way, make a change in the best interest of the Customer when you can.

4. People leaving a large organization can sometimes be a big concern. It is sometimes a signal of a deeper problem. Are your personnel leaving the organization because of better opportunity or something else? Also, are they being replaced? Whoopsee Daisy! Not being replaced you say! Well, why not? A down side, we may not have a BUDGET for it. (see next Con)

5. BUDGET, BUDGET are you kidding me? We need personnel and training and other things. BUDGET be damned! The same B-word that you use to get things is the same B-word that taketh away. Revenue shortfall, don’t worry, RIF will straighten that out. Not enough overseas contracts, no problem, we’ll make it up in personnel attrition. We won’t hire replacements. Understand the process and be ready for it. Constantly promote Cross Training, Communications and Leadership.

6. Customers do have a certain level of expectations when dealing with large organizations and quite frankly, it’s all bad. We as consumers and Customers have a FEAR when calling in or asking for Customer Service. And if we work for these companies, we know! We know what the real world is. Here is the real secret. It’s people. I know, call me crazy. The People we hire and train are real persons too. And if we can find a way for our people to treat other people like a person (that is with soul and feeling), we have really done our job well. (Google “The Platinum Rule”)

7. It is easy to get people trained; it’s just not easy to get quality trained people. Sometimes in larger organizations the methods have become madness, outdated and ineffective. We bring personnel in, teach them only to find out that what they are being taught came from the training manual written 20 years ago. It’s our job to train and act in the best interests of the Customer if this is your organization.

8. Having to write 30, 40 or more PE’s a year is another PITA moment. And, if not done well, only serves to extend the life of an employee that long ago deserved to be launched from the organization through the Torpedo Tube of Death that we all wish we had in our office. (If you have managed people for any length of time you begin to develop fantasies on how to fire and discipline them, this is one of mine) It’s your job to write effective PE’s and help that person deliver the best possible experience to your Customer, PITA or not.

9. Fallback in larger organizations can be seen as a sign of weakness resulting in the next step, rumorspreadingdesignedtogetyoufired behavior. It’s a good idea to have designed and talked about several ways to handle problems and circumstances that pop up unexpectedly, and broadcasted it all to everyone in your department and the department next door and downstairs and upstairs and everywhere. Let people know what to expect.

10. It can really be un-Synergistic when it does not come together. If people begin to feel as if the world is coming to an end, they will stop trying and start updating their resume. Your Customers will also tell you this by not patronizing and complaints will start to go up. Getting people to focus on the task at hand and then pushing really really hard is the key.

Large or Small, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is knowing your organization.

The real job is to focus on the Customer, the reason we are here, and help each other along the way.

Leonard Buchholz leads seminars and writes articles.

This article is written with the hope that you do something with the thoughts and ideas presented here. Take action and make a difference. 760-529-5635

Leading Seminars Leadership, Management and Customer Service since 2006.

Author: Guest Contributor

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