SMEs and the customer experience Published August 11, 2017

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Small, Micro and Medium-scale Enterprises are the engines of growth for any economy. Some start as one-man enterprise and grow to employ workers and become large corporations.

A 2010 National SME report by Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria, in conjunction with the National Bureau of Statistics, stated that the sector has about 17 million businesses, which is about 10 per cent of the size of the nation and employing close to 32 million people.

The 17 million businesses are divided into different categories: micro, small and medium scale enterprises. Micro industries constitute about 99 per cent of the number, small enterprises account for about 0.12 per cent while medium scale account for 0.01 per cent, according to the study.

The above goes to show that SMEs are sizeable in number and a force which cannot be ignored. They cater to their own set of customers. The value of customer loyalty is good for any business regardless of its size, and such business could leverage the customer’s loyalty by competing on customer experience rather than on price.

Some organisations, regardless of their sizes, are now operating in what a foremost customer experience consulting firm, Forrester, calls the “age of the customer.” This is a situation where customers call the shots. With margins getting slimmer for organisations, customers are well-travelled and more exposed. They compare products between industries and can always do their research, move to competitors and punish companies for the slightest infractions, with slim margins and profits.

It is tempting for businesses to take the easy, but dangerous, route of cutting back on product quality or service. Although this may benefit the business in the short term by helping to save cost, but on the long run, it hurts the bottom line of the business, as it is usually a case of ‘penny wise and pound foolish’. Customers move on, and any temporary respite from cost-saving measures is usually wiped off as they move their business elsewhere.

The businesses that will come out on top are those that could rise to the challenge and look for creative ways to make their customers loyal to them. That understanding must be borne from the fact that businesses do not exist just to consummate a transaction, but should be looked at from the lens of going into a lengthy relationship with the customer.

The SMEs have a lot of advantages over their more established counterparts because of their size. They are more nimble to change and can easily evolve. They have the ability to make changes quickly and tweak their products or processes without having to go through layers of approvals and sign-offs. They can make their mistakes quickly and at a much smaller scale and learn from it better than their larger counterparts.

They can continuously improve on a small scale by understanding and making sense of their customer journey, which is simply looking at the way customers engage with the business, so as to make it better and correct flaws, as against what the big players have with larger product lines, regional offices, conflicting interests, key performance indicators and agendas. However, with SMEs, they can easily and quickly focus on the basic things and understand how customer journey affect the customers and be nimble at making necessary corrections.

Every SME must be able to track itself and look introspectively at the service it offers. This is essential because in the world of business, only the paranoid survive. In tracking to understand their customers better, SMEs can use some of the benchmarks their larger counterparts use like the Net Promoter score, which is a method for measuring customer experience and advocacy levels.

It asks a simple question: “On a scale of 0 to 10, how likely are you to recommend the business to friends and family?” This helps them to know their promoters (those who give the company a rating between 9 and 10), detractors (those who give a rating between 7 and 8) and those that are neutral (these are unhappy or lukewarm customers that could easily be lured away by competition or who could easily jump ship when they have found an alternative). Since SMEs have fewer customers, they could easily get feedback for improvements and quickly act on customer insights.

The net promoter score is obtained from a subtraction of the promoters from detractors and this has a direct impact on the revenue and profitability of a business, as promoters are likely to be more loyal, spend more and even refer their friends. Hence, SMEs with a large promoter base tend to fare better than those with a high number of detractors and neutrals.

Net promoter score, customer satisfaction scores and measuring intention to re-purchase could help an SME know where it stands and points out areas for improvements. Focusing on areas that customer value the most helps to get a greater share of wallet and engenders loyalty.

The value of customer experience for SMES cannot be over emphasised and it can be one of the stones that will bring down the Goliath in a battle — in a competitive environment.

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