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Published October 22, 2020
A weekly look at issues facing Wyoming business owners and entrepreneurs from the Wyoming Small Business Development Center (SBDC) Network, a collection of business assistance programs at the University of Wyoming.
By Bruce Morse, regional director, Wyoming SBDC Network
Consumers have been moving more of their purchases online even before the pandemic hit. However, when COVID-19 did hit, the move to online purchasing accelerated at such a clip that it is leaving some brick-and-mortar businesses wondering how they can compete without a digital storefront and maintain their local customer base.
Moving the business online and offering delivery are some ways local businesses have adjusted, but small businesses also should look at what kinds of value-added services they can add to their existing businesses that would give them a competitive advantage over their larger e-commerce competitors. Small businesses also should avoid the pitfalls that come when they ignore the basics of customer service or staying on message in their social media posts.
Where brick-and-mortar businesses have an advantage over online retailers is in the area of product knowledge and customer service that come from well-trained and experienced staff interacting with customers in the store. This is an advantage you can exploit. Having staff explain options, answer questions, compare products and explain how a product works are the in-real-life aspects missing from the online retail experience. Adding other value-added services, such as delivery and installation, can really make a difference and garner more local sales.
Of course, all of this rests on having a well-trained staff that understands how to talk to customers and create a great in-store experience. As anyone in retail will tell you, all it takes is for one lousy customer interaction to stick with people and, in small communities around Wyoming, word spreads quickly and can have an outsized negative impact on your business.
Sometimes, it is not bad in-store service that can lead to businesses failing, but bad behavior on social media. In this day of instant communication, a business needs to be cognizant of the message that it is sending. It can be very easy for an innocent comment or joke -- even on a personal page or forum -- to be taken out of context and spread like wildfire.
A good rule of thumb is to stay away from commenting on controversial topics, such as politics, race and religion, to name a few. While it may very well be your right to say whatever you want, that doesn't mean that you should. Resist the urge to react to something you read or hear, and fire off a quick one-liner. Fact-check information before you instantly pass it on as true. Instead, take a break. Maybe even sleep on it, and think about the possible ramifications to your business. Most businesses need every customer they can get, so alienating a group of folks that used to patronize your establishment can be extremely costly.
We live in an interesting time, but some time-tested principles still apply. Treat customers well, provide them additional benefits and service enhancements, and keep your marketing message professional and focused. This will go a long way toward building a successful business. If you provide over-the-top service, you do not have to be the lowest-cost provider as people will pay a little extra for that exceptional care.
The Wyoming SBDC Network offers no-cost advising and technical assistance to help Wyoming entrepreneurs think about, launch, grow, reinvent or exit their business. In 2019 alone, the Wyoming SBDC Network helped Wyoming entrepreneurs start 108 new businesses; create or save 3,402 jobs; and bring a capital impact of more than $24 million to the state. The Wyoming SBDC Network is hosted by UW with state funds from the Wyoming Business Council and funded, in part, through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration.
To ask a question, call 1-800-348-5194, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or write 1000 E. University Ave., Dept. 3922, Laramie, WY 82071-3922.