customer relationships

By Rieva Lesonsky

Small service businesses such as plumbers, IT consultants and beauty salon owners account for the majority of U.S. small businesses—and for these entrepreneurs, customer relationships are what it’s all about. Keeping customers loyal requires building strong ties with them, not to mention providing stellar service.

But in doing so, small service businesses face some unique challenges, according to The Schedulicity study of the Relational Economy, which polled the owners of several hundred small service businesses about their biggest business problems.

“Finding new customers” ranked as the number-one business challenge for entrepreneurs in the survey, followed by “business growth” and “customer retention.” When asked how they feel about the challenges they’re facing, “frustrated” was the most common answer.

Asked what types of tools would help them better handle their business challenges and build customer relationships, about one-fourth (27 percent) cited “better advertising tools” and 21 percent said they need better customer communication tools.

It’s not that small business owners aren’t putting effort into customer relationships—they are. In fact, about half spend between one and three hours a day managing customer communications. However, only 18 percent think their current customer communications methods are “very effective.”

Lack of time (cited by 58 percent), lack of budget and increasingly high consumer expectations are all barriers to effective customer communication, according to the survey respondents

Communication is vital to small business success, especially for a service business. After all, building customer relationships is the foundation of repeat business in the service industry, and you can’t have a strong relationship if you don’t regularly communicate with customers and make it easy for them to communicate with you.

Ease of use emerged as a common theme in the study. Small business owners polled know their customers are impatient and want to do everything quickly and conveniently. One of the top complaints businesses in the survey get from their customers is that the business is “not convenient for my schedule.”

That’s why nearly half of respondents say being able to have customers schedule and update their own appointments on a mobile device would be extremely helpful to their businesses. In addition, over half (51 percent) of respondents say the ability to accept online payments would be extremely beneficial—this gets customers on their way quickly and enables them to pay wherever they are.

Providing good customer service is more important than ever today, as customers’ expectations increase. The good news is, there are many options available to your business to accomplish this goal. In addition to Schedulicity, online scheduling tools for small businesses including FlexBooker and Booker help customers “serve themselves” by scheduling their own appointments online on their computer or mobile device. Some of the tools also enable you to accept credit and debit card payments online so customers can even pay at the same time they make their appointments.

The end result: You free up your and your employees’ time to handle more important tasks—like actually providing your service and running your business.