Now more than ever, given the uncertainty brought on by the pandemic, it is essential for small business owners to strengthen and lean into their reputation in order to retain clientele and grow with new partners. In the era of COVID-19, customers are cutting back operating budgets as wisely has they can and are adding an extra layer of diligence when selecting vendors to do business with – in short, they are seeking out those they trust.

A strong reputation gives you a competitive edge – not only does it help retain current customers, but it also attracts new customers by creating brand advocates. So, how do you authentically build a strong reputation? The answer does not require a massive advertising budget, rather it lies in building thoughtful and thorough relationships and providing an unparalleled customer service experience.

U.S. Lawns, a leading grounds maintenance and landscape franchise, has seen first-hand how a concentrated focus on customer service can entrench your small business at a time when reputation means everything to your success. The below tips are meant to help small business owners strengthen their reputation in order to survive and thrive in this new COVID-era.

Hire with the Strength of the Team in Mind: The strongest entrepreneurs understand that it is their people who make their business successful, so start by hiring with a team mentality. Too often small business owners make the mistake of hiring for industry-fit vs. cultural-fit. Leaders can teach the ins-and-outs of the industry and job requirements, but you can’t teach innate soft-skills such as honesty, empathy, integrity, and work ethic. Prioritize personality and cultural fit to better actualize your company’s mission, vision, and good stewardship. With the right team members, you’re able to build a culture that will drive unprecedented customer service.

Proactively Communicate with Clients: If the client is hunting you down for answers or status updates, you’ve already lost their trust. Strong communication requires proactivity and transparency. You should be the first to pick up the phone or send the email – discuss expectations, service details, timelines, etc. Strive to keep communication frequent and consistent via the use of one-on-one connections and integration of automated technology. Provide status updates and get feedback mid-way through so you can make necessary adjustments to best satisfy the customer. Remember, even an interaction as short at 30 seconds assures the customer that they are your priority and that you’ve got the job handled. Stellar communication is the secret to building lifelong relationships with customers, your community, and future business partners.

Embrace Feedback: Don’t shy away from client reviews or community feedback. To build up credibility in your area, you need to show that your business can be adaptable. Embrace customer feedback – the good the bad and the ugly. Take the time to understand each review and follow up with customers about their posts to further discuss their experience. The more you listen, the better you’ll be at acting on that insight to strengthen your reputation.

Be Willing to Learn, Boots on the Ground: As leaders rise in the ranks and expand their company, they often become distant from the day-to-day interworking of the business. This can lead to detrimental effects on employee turnover and overall reputation. Not only does observing the frontlines firsthand give you a better grasp on operations and impact, but it also provides ample opportunity to uncover new ways to enhance your business and grow relationships with your customer base.

Tait Coates, a U.S. Lawns franchisee who operates across three counties in Charleston, SC. Transitioning from real estate to owning a commercial lawn care business was a daunting career shift for Coates – but he quickly realized the secret to long-term success, no matter the economic climate or industry, lied in the ability to maintain a stellar small business reputation. Finding value in the U.S. Lawns proven business model, Coates has been able expand his business and now has one of the top customer service rankings in the system of over 260 franchises open and operating.

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