Don’t aim to be a big business. Aim to be a great business.

November 6, 2013

I was recently interviewed by a local magazine, and the reporter asked me if I had ever planned to build a big company. The question surprised me. As a small (more like micro) business owner, I want to see my company grow and prosper—but being big has never been the focal point. Instead, we strive to be great at what we do, and to make sure that we provide quality service and real value to our clients.

I think of business growth as the natural reward for doing things right. Too often, big business owners and higher-level administrators lose touch with what goes on at the bottom of the pyramid. In my agency, my goal is to “wow” my clients at every interaction. It is very important that my clients feel that they are getting value from their relationships with me and my employees—and that we are ultimately helping them grow.

During the last semester in my MBA program, I had to work with a well-established company and provide them with a report regarding their marketing practices. At the time, my boss was married to a Senior Vice President at Fidelity Investments, who graciously worked with me on this project, and helped me coordinate interviews with various employees at their corporate campus in Massachusetts. My most impressive take-away from these meetings (among many amazing marketing practices), was the fact that every Fidelity employee, including the CEO, had to answer the phones—yes, customer service calls—for a few hours per month.

This practice has stuck with me through the years. By requiring all employees to know the ins and outs of their system, and to hear complaints and compliments directly from their clients, Fidelity executives stayed in tune with the real lifeblood of their organization at all times.

On the other end of the spectrum, this week I had an awful experience with Intuit. I had bought a QuickBooks license online in 2012, and needed to download it again onto a new computer. The download process wasn’t working, though—it kept aborting at the same stage each time I tried it. I called customer support 3 times. The first time, I was on hold for 26 minutes; the second, for 20 minutes. The third time, I actually got a hold of someone after 19 minutes – and she told me that I could either pay a $59.00 charge to download the file again (because it was a 2012 version), or I could try to figure it out myself by reading through articles on their forum. Needless to say, I was unimpressed and quite upset with the fact that I had wasted so much time on hold for nothing.

So, what’s the difference between being big and being great? Both Fidelity and Intuit are fairly large companies. Based on my experience, though, the difference seems to be that Fidelity cares about their customers and genuinely wants to be the leader in their industry. Intuit, however, chooses to treat their customers based on the dollar value only – and that undermines both their reputation and the perceived value of their services.

Of course, every business has its limitations when it comes to cost for support services, but a company will never truly succeed if it only cares for sales conversions – because a sale never really ends once a prospect has converted. In fact, a new sales cycle begins with every conversion, and the quality of service is usually what sustains a long-lasting business relationship – not the quantity.

It doesn’t matter how large your business is, or how many people you employ, if your company is unable to deliver distinctive products and services. In other words, aim to be great, not big – ‘big’ comes as a reward of being great at what you do.

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