Posts Tagged ‘service’

“If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing properly” my mum always used to say. We never had much money when I was growing up, but whenever mum did buy something, she’d always make sure it was of the best quality she could afford. She understood the false economy of buying something cheap that would break within days. And although we were never flush with cash, she would rather pay for quality.

I don’t think we were alone, and I don’t think that attitude is confined to the 80’s! Most people would rather pay for quality than search out the cheapest. And the old adage “you get what you pay for” is just as true now as it was 25 years ago.

If you’re good at what you do, whether that’s a great product or top quality service, then you won’t need to compete on price. People will recognise the value in what you’re offering and they’ll be prepared to spend more. Or will they?

All too often I meet small business owners who are struggling to earn a living because their clients don’t want to pay what they need to charge. They’re having to be the cheapest or discount just to get the job. Why? Because their customers don’t see the value in what they’re offering.

And this is partly down to your sales process, partly down to what you’ve written on your website/ brochure and partly (largely if you’re not doing the selling) down to the fact that your brand isn’t communicating confidence or professionalism.


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The banks compete ferociously for new business banking customers, who they categorise as ‘switchers’ or ‘starts’. Switchers are those that move their account from Bank A to Bank B; and starts, well, they are first-time business customers.

There’s about 4.5 million small and medium sized businesses in the UK, and most will need a bank account. So, it’s an important market.

When deciding which bank to go with, most people will make a choice based on price and service. Price includes cost of banking, offers, interest rates and so on. These are a bank’s core product offering.

All the banks offer free business banking as an inducement, and it would be surprising to find the main banks offering wildly different interest rates. Of course, all banks use advertising to build their brand and promote their products.

It’s interesting to see how the banks position their service offering to small business switchers and starts:

  • The Royal Bank of Scotland pushes its service for start-ups right upfront. This includes free software for finance, sales and marketing (sounds good). RBS also trumpets four industry specific services. But what information and advice there is seems pretty cosmetic.
  • Bank of Scotland leads with an award it has won from a little-known magazine, not the most convincing encounter for someone reviewing banking options. There’s a good section on women in business, but the general support for SMEs is light.
  • Lloyds homepage is very confident: “No wonder more start-ups choose us than any other bank”. And they have some excellent business support material, although some of the signposting to further information is out of date.
  • NatWest has some good guides for business start-ups but the site is very product oriented, which some might find off-putting.
  • Barclays looks like it has some good guides and factsheets, but you have to register, and I gave up it took so long. There does seem to be some genuine support from Barclays in the form of free seminars and a legal helpline.
  • HSBC initially feels very product-led, but there are some very good resources hidden away. The Knowledge Network is a truly comprehensive suite of advice for anyone in business. For start-ups, alongside Start-up Stars, there is an email-based support service called Up&Running.

The government’s Business Link service remains the largest reservoir of advice and information for UK businesspeople. But its very size means that it is not always easy to quickly find the answer you want. That’s why I think there is a real opportunity for banks to up the ante on the support resources they offer.

Banks can move the deckchairs around with offers and promotions, but anyone starting or running a business values support or service at least as highly as cost or price.

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The gym I go to is 20 seconds from my office door – so at least I don’t have to jog there ;). It’s a basic set up with all the usual cardio- and weight-training machines. There’s no swimming pool, steam room or sauna, and thankfully the clientele don’t go large on the latest Lycra.

About four or five months ago it changed hands; well, actually it became a not-for-profit social enterprise. It had previously been part of a relatively well known chain, but now has its own identity. As far as I can tell most of the staff haven’t changed, but perhaps the manager has been given freedom do things his way. The place has been tarted up a bit, and there seems to be a genuine excitement and optimism about the future.

Instead of a hefty membership fee up front they now run a six week induction for £60: very reasonable. There’s no immediate requirement to sign up to any Direct Debit; new users complete their induction and then decide whether they want to continue. So, there are a lot of people trying out the six week ‘taster’, liking it and joining up.

The service (which, to be fair, was always good) has notched up another level and, strange as it may seem, I actively look forward to nipping over the road for my occasional lunchtime workout.

I had been paying £24 per month membership, which I thought was OK. But the new regime is offering ‘company memberships’ for just £10 per person, per month if a group from the same company joins up. Five people from our place went and had a look at the gym, were given a warm welcome, and subsequently signed up at this amazing £10 per month rate. I get the benefit too!

So, if I’ve got my maths right, per month I save £14 and the gym now bills £60 (up from £24). Just goes to show how running a strong offer, thinking creatively about prices, and delivering excellent service can build new business.

I’m happy, my colleagues are delighted, and we are all going to look like this before the month is out.

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After I drop the kids off at school my route to work takes me past a filling station that is not yet charging over a pound for a litre of unleaded. I count myself lucky. With the exception of the supermarket filling stations, there don’t seem to be many other choices around. When you look at the discounted prices the supermarkets can offer, I suppose most competition has been squeezed out.

Where I live, the closed forecourts are soon blocked by concrete lumps to stop travellers parking up, and quickly become overgrown. Some time later a developer usually builds flats on the land (but often without adequate parking, ironically). Maybe those sites will lay dormant a little longer now, as the housing market falters.

How do independent operators compete against the big boys? If it is not possible to compete on price, then one answer is to compete on service and ‘be different’. Farmers have been forced to diversify into tourism, leisure and so on. The newsagent and general store on the corner of my road gets away with a premium on the milk because it is handy and, well, I like the guy who runs it. But I can think of no petrol station that is genuinely different or gives amazing service. Maybe with a commodity like petrol that is just not possible.

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