Ask most people and they’ll tell you they despise dealing with large, dumb companies. Poor service, indifferent staff and out of touch management are hallmarks of large companies. Yet for some reason we keep dealing with them despite knowing that there are probably much better options out there.
One of the biggest reasons behind this is a comfort, that while the experience may not be great, it likely won’t be horrible. As the saying goes, “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t”.
Fly by night operators and snake oil salesmen have made many people distrust small businesses by default. People know that while a large company might not give the very best service, they are unlikely to be outright scammed by them.
If you run a small business that puts you at an immediate disadvantage.
A customer doing their due diligence on you may come to the conclusion that you are trustworthy and provide great service, but the vast majority of customers won’t go to that effort. They will often take a cursory glance and judge you by your cover.
That’s why it’s increasingly important to present your business in way that conveys trust and confidence.
On The Internet, Nobody Knows You’re A Dog
The strategic use of technology is one way that you can level the playing field.
In times not so long ago, access to business technology tools was cost prohibitive for small businesses and hence was the domain of large companies.
The Internet, software as a service and cloud computing levels the playing field.
As this famous cartoon from The New Yorker illustrates, technology can help make the little guy look like one of the big guys – leveling the playing field and helping fight the trust bias against small businesses:
Fake It Until You Make It
The following are some inexpensive ways you can use technology to help you present your business in a larger and more professional manner.
Other than the fact they will help you fight the small business trust bias, many of these tools will help you run and scale your business in a much more efficient manner.
Website: Your website is probably one of the first places prospects go to check you out. Beware of the following signals which scream to potential prospects that you are small or potentially untrustworthy:
- No phone number listed. Phone numbers should be prominently listed at the top of every page.
- A PO Box address or no address listed instead of a proper physical business address. Even if you work from home, you can use virtual office services to meet with customers and to display a business address on your website.
- Poor or cheap looking design. Don’t skimp on design, even if you build the website yourself, attractive easy to use website templates are available at very minimal cost.
Email Address: It amazes me how many small, even medium-sized businesses advertise a Hotmail, Gmail or ISP-issued email address rather than using an email address with their own domain. Who looks more trustworthy email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org?
A great way of getting the functionality of Gmail with your own domain name is to use the Google Apps service. It gives you up to 10 users free and above that it’s a pretty minimal fee per user.
Phone Number: Your phone number can say a lot about you. Using a national toll free number or a toll free word or “vanity” number can give your business a national and accessible feel. It can also help people recall your phone number on fast moving mediums such as radio or billboards where the prospect has only a split second to take note of your phone number.
CRM: A customer relationship management (CRM) system will help you keep track of customer details. It’s a much more efficient way of managing customer records than just a spreadsheet or some ad-hoc filing system. A great CRM for small businesses is Highrise.
Ticketing System: If dealing with customer support or enquiries, a ticketing system can help you and your customers keep track of requests. This can dramatically lower the burden on you and your staff to respond to status updates phone calls and emails. It also gives the potential customer confidence that their request is trackable and hasn’t gone into some black hole. A great hosted ticketing system for small businesses is Zendesk.
These are just a few of the tools that can help you fight the trust bias that disadvantages small businesses. Using these tools you can punch above your weight and present yourself as a large, professional organisation, even if you’re just starting out.
While these tools are not a replacement for having great products and great service, they can help you manage perception. Keep up the good work long enough and soon perception will become reality.
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