NEWS TO USE | Staying competitive in small business

This economy is making competition an even tougher battle among small businesses.

Consumers are spending less and there’s fewer customers to go around, making small businesses fight for what share of profit is left in the marketplace. Palmetto business consultant Alan T. Clark talks about what more businesses can be doing to best their competition.

What should small businesses know about their competition?

Probably the most important thing small businesses can know is what the differences are in how they treat their customers.

At the end of the day, you need to be providing something that’s memorable and something that is unique to a customer. That usually is the thing that keeps people coming back.

How do you take what you know about the competition and use it to improve your business?

You have to understand what information you have first. Make sure you have the right information.

In terms of pricing, know that price is a matter of perception of what you’re going to deliver for value. Take what the other group is going to do for a customer and use it to improve what you are going to do for the customer.

How big of a difference are the extras of customer service in competing with other businesses?

You really have to be entirely focused on exactly what you’re going to do that’s different from the next guy.

The big thing is it has to trickle down through everybody in your business. Everybody has to support customer service.

One good example I’ve seen in terms of extra customer service is at Bonefish Grill. When you take a meal home from Bonefish they mark on the box the meal and the date. That’s a little step that the waiters go through and it adds a little bit extra customer service that goes a long way.

What can a small business do to bring back past customers?

Contact them. It’s really amazing to me that more businesses don’t spend time reaching out to their existing customers and past customers.

Talk to them about whatever you have to offer and state the other thing, ‘Hey, we miss you.’

If you’re in a service business, call up six months later and say ‘Are things still working the way they should? Did you run across anybody else in this business that we can match?’

How does a small business find new customers?

That one is a little trickier. The answer is more along the lines of where are you seeking customers and should you be seeking customers in another spot? You shouldn’t budget out your advertising to one spot. Be sure you are covering all the bases that your target audience looks at.

What are cost-efficient ways a small business can offer more value to the customer?

Ninety percent of the time there’s room to improve customer service. Figure out if you’re doing the best you can in customer service. One of the best ways to figure out if your customer service is in line with what your competition is offering is to go become their customer.