Small business owners looking for a way to distinguish their business from their competition have many ways to do so. They can charge less, or advertise more, or fly a huge red weather balloon over their store. None of these choices lead to small business success.
Yes, short-term campaigns can lead to short-term success. The secret to long-term success, however, has two parts and two parts only: retaining customers, and generating customer referrals (also known as word-of-mouth). And the way to do both of those parts is to give the customer what he wants and needs.
If a customer only sometimes gets what he wants and needs, he will look elsewhere. If he gets it late, or it's not quite right, he will look elsewhere. If you miss an appointment, or a deadline, he will look elsewhere. Customers need dependability.
This is a fast-moving world, and people work hard to keep up and get ahead. They come to you because you say you can help them: you can provide a product or service they need. You can fix their car, or paint their wall, or balance their books, or train them to succeed in business. They don't have time to waste waiting for you, or even worse, waiting for your errors to be fixed.
Lack of dependability will destroy your small business success faster than high prices, or mediocre quality, or slow work. Customers will spend more for dependability. They will put up with mediocre (but sufficient) quality if they can count on you. They will allow for the extra day or week if they are confident you will deliver at that time.
Dependability is a rare quality. It is valuable because it is rare. Think of all the times you have been disappointed by lack of dependability, and you will find they are very frequent. Every time you have had to wait in a waiting room; every checkout clerk who has needed to call for a price check; every check that wasn't in the mail; all these and more have made you wish you had a choice. Or when you have had a choice, you have taken it.
Your customers feel the same way about your business when the transaction is not smooth and easy and what they were expecting (or better). You can almost build your whole business on dependability! McDonald's did.
A survey the author did in 1990 of his clients, with over 600 respondents, asked them to place speed, quality, price, and dependability in order of importance. Over fifty percent named dependability as most important. Quality came in second, then speed, then price. There is no reason to think that the responses would be any different today.
Do whatever it takes, is the lesson here. Be on time, meet your deadlines, keep your word, even if it means working all night, paying overtime, losing money on the job, or missing your golf tournament. Be dependable.
If your customers can count on you, they will.
Small business success depends on dependability.
Don Dewsnap is the author of Small Business Magic: Survive and Succeed In Any Economy, published by Oak Wand Publishing. Small Business Magic details the Principles of Quality necessary to business success, applying to all aspects of business from production to sales.