THE LATE FEARGAL Quinn called it “crowning the customer”, an ethos that above all seeks to maintain the intimate customer service levels of a small grocer, while allowing for growth to national scale.
Superquinn’s advertising slogan was “you’ll come for the service and you’ll stay for the value” but that wasn’t quite true.
Independent surveys consistently placed the supermarket chain’s prices higher than its rivals, but the customers didn’t complain, the service alone was enough to command their loyalty.
This is an object lesson in how a business can scale without losing some of the advantages it enjoyed when it started out.
Research carried out by Salesforce among Irish consumers has found that providing a good customer experience is more important than ever, with seven in ten people saying that it’s just as important as the product or service they want to buy.
The good news for small businesses is that they have a distinct advantage in this regard. More than seven out of 10 (73%) said small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in Ireland are often better at customer service than larger companies.
SMEs are also seen as more nimble at resolving problems and having knowledgeable staff.
Indeed, the most important aspects of customer experience for the majority of Irish people are easy access to product information, knowledgeable salespeople, and service agents who resolve issues.
These are all things on which the average small business should be able to score very well.
The challenge lies in retaining that personal touch as businesses grow and scale. This is not just about retaining an advantage, it is a question of meeting customer expectations.
Size shouldn’t matter
Another finding of the research is that two-thirds of people believe companies should provide the same level of great customer experience regardless of their size.
In Feargal Quinn’s case the answer lay in having more staff who were paid better than those of his competitors.
In today’s ultra-competitive world where wafer-thin margins are a daily reality this is not necessarily an option for fast growing businesses. This is where technology comes into play, offering affordable solutions to allow your SME to compete with the biggest players in any market.
Larger companies are already well aware of this and the survey results also show that customers appreciate these personalised offers, easy checkouts and product comparison tools that they are offering.
When it comes to companies interacting with customers on their preferred channels of email, mobile apps or social media, it is the larger ones that are out in front.
Eight out of ten people said they would like to see SMEs making more use of technology like mobile apps to deliver enhanced customer experiences.
Pink Shirtmaker is a prime example of an SME which has risen to this challenge. Founded in 1984 by Irish brothers James, Peter and John Mullen the company has grown to become a worldwide brand and is now part of the LVMH luxury goods group.
Pink is still able to deliver the same individualised bespoke service to customers as it did when it had a single store in Jermyn Street, London thanks to its clever use of customer relationship management (CRM) technology.
Pink customers can get replacement shirts within hours, regardless of their location, thanks to a customer-centric technology platform that seamlessly links the sales, service and e-commerce teams.
If we look across the water, New York City-based eCommerce retailer, Milk Makeup delivers ‘shoppable’ videos, product visuals and personalised promotional offers built especially for mobile devices, driving 60% of online traffic.
Creating a site with more content has enabled more shoppers to gain awareness of the products. They too, still have a growing number of bricks and mortar stores.
In much the same way, department store group Brown Thomas Arnotts is using this kind of CRM technology to offer customers a personalised online experience to rival that offered in-store.
These are just a few examples of companies which are seizing the power of new technology to maintain close individualised relationships with customers and drive growth at the same time.
The message is clear, SMEs are already better than many large companies when it comes to customer service, and they can maintain that edge as they grow by innovating and using technologies like CRM to automate basic tasks to enable them to work smarter and better connect with their customers in a whole new way.
Quinn’s crown, great customer service and great results, is there to be taken and new technology puts it in reach of every SME.
Brigid Charmant is a senior vice president at Salesforce