Small-Business Answer Book

Customer Service and Relocation

Q:My repeat business is not what I think it should be, and my customer service may be at fault. How can I measure the effectiveness of my customer service?

A: The key to doing more business with your existing customers, as well as attracting new ones through viral marketing and word-of-mouth, is customer service. Customer service means different things to different companies and in different industries. In some instances, good customer service may consist of no more than a friendly smile and a wave goodbye after the sale. In others, it may involve years of follow-up, technical support, parts and repair service, training, updates and more. Here are some suggestions for finding out what your customers want and what they think about your customer service.

1. Attend trade shows and industry events that are important to your customers. You'll find out what the competition is doing and what kinds of products and services customers are looking for.

2. In some industries, nurturing a social relationship with customers and prospects is effective. Take them out to lunch, dinner, a ballgame, the opera or for a round of golf. In a relaxed social atmosphere, you'll learn the secrets that will allow you to go above and beyond your competition.

3. Stay abreast of trends, then respond to them. Read industry trade publications, be active in trade organizations, and pay attention to what your customers are doing and what they need.

4. Most important, ask for feedback. Survey your customers regularly to find out how you're doing. Send postage-paid questionnaire cards or letters, call them on the phone, or set up focus groups or online surveys. Ask for suggestions, and then fix the trouble areas revealed.

Whatever you do, don't rest on your laurels. Regularly evaluate your product or service to be sure it is still priced, packaged and delivered correctly.

Q:I'm thinking about moving my business to another part of the country. How can I be sure this decision is right for my business?

A: Every year, the grass looks greener on the other side of the fence to many entrepreneurs, so they pull up stakes and move to a new city.

Chief among current reasons for relocation is the need for a suitable work force. Unemployment rates are lower than they've been in decades, and the shortage of workers in some occupations is acute. For firms that need specialized employees, it may be well worth it to relocate to an area where they can easily find these kinds of employees.

When a company is in outmoded or undersized facilities, that's another reason to consider moving. Most businesses start in a small facility and then move to bigger quarters in the same city. On the other hand, cost is a concern in any business decision, and a move can cure-or create-many cost issues. Companies often must compromise between staying close to target markets and choosing the lowest-cost facility.

Depending on circumstances, you may have other financial issues to consider. Large companies often land well-publicized tax concessions worth billions of dollars. Growing businesses rarely receive such perks because incentives are based on the number of jobs the business will create. An entrepreneur, however, may be able to tap a cash-flow windfall by selling a building or land that has appreciated in value, then purchasing or renting lower-cost space.

Quality of life is another issue to consider. Companies evaluating relocation often look at recreational opportunities, education facilities, crime rates, health care, climate and other factors when evaluating a city's quality of life.

In business, as in your personal life, not every move works out. But by looking closely at your reasons for moving and making sure the chosen spot addresses your needs, you'll increase the odds that the new location is the best choice for your business.

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This article was originally published in the October 2006 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Small-Business Answer Book.

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