By Bill Fox, Managing Director, Kent Business Academy

That’s what I tell all my clients. As a small business owner, it is all too easy to think the world is conspiring against you. In today’s commercial environment, one of the biggest problems businesses face is competition - but don’t despair, there is a secret weapon that can help you get the edge and drive your business forward.

That secret weapon is ‘service’. Service can transform your relationship with your customers and take your business to a new level.

A lot of business owners might argue that you are already giving your customers good service, but I believe that many businesses could benefit from using service to secure existing customers and attract new ones. Here are a few examples of attitude changing service that only take a few seconds, but will last for days in the customer’s memory and ensure that come back to you time after time.

1. Remember the little things

It’s surprising how little you need to do to impress your customers or clients. Yet many businesses just don’t bother. Helping them to carry their purchases to the car, or calling them to check if everything is okay if you have sorted out a problem for them, are small things that help to build a relationship with your customers that really matters. Think of how many businesses you deal with simply because you like the person who serves you or because they go out of their way to be helpful. Wouldn’t you like to be that business?

Keep a customer record card. When a client comes in for a meeting and you’re making them a tea or coffee record their preference on a customer record card. Next time they come in, say ‘Cup of coffee? White with one isn’t it John?’ Who wouldn’t be impressed? Sending them a card on their birthday is another great way to build rapport. Just remember to record their birth date on the customer record card.

2. Add value…

Sometimes it can be worthwhile to reward your customers with ‘added value’. What do I mean by ‘added value’? Well, it could be giving them a trial sample of another product – you can sometimes get these free of charge from your suppliers. Or, when you sell a product, why not give them something for free that has a high perceived value but has a low cost to you – such as money off their next order or visit.

These clever extra ‘added value’ touches will not only leave them on a high, but probably encourage them to refer new customers to you as well.

3. Co-operate with other businesses

This is a really effective and inexpensive way to get your customers on your side. Here’s how it works; you approach another business and discuss the possibility of helping to promote their business to your customers. All they need to do is supply a free gift, such as a gift voucher or free service that you can give to each one of your customers.

For the company concerned, you are providing them with ‘free’ advertising direct to your customers. More than that, you’re recommending their business which is a powerful form of promotion.

It may seem like a simple gesture but it can have a huge effect on the way your client views your business.