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Leveraging Customer Service as a Value Proposition
Kate comes to Ruby having spent 25 years in the technology sector successfully guiding small and large businesses through various stages of growth. As a small business leader herself, Kate fell in love with Ruby’s purpose-driven mission to help small businesses survive and thrive through real human connections. For more information: www.ruby.com.
SmallBizLady: Why is trust so important when building relationships, especially for service businesses?
Kate Winkler: Trust is fundamental to business success. It’s the key factor in not only generating opportunities, but also converting people into customers and maximizing loyalty.
The simple truth is most businesses get their leads through referrals. If a customer trusts you, they’ll recommend you to their friends, family, and colleagues. But once those new opportunities come your way, you have to establish trust to ultimately win their business. And after they make a purchase decision, you need to establish trust again and again throughout the relationship to keep their business.
This is particularly important for service businesses because many new customers come with urgent needs. Maybe they have a leaky roof or a medical concern, or are in the middle of a legal dispute. These are challenging issues—both emotionally and financially speaking—and people experiencing them can’t afford to choose the wrong solution. In establishing trust, you’re showing them that your business is the right solution. It’s how you prove your expertise, demonstrate that you understand the problem your customer is facing, and take accountability for solving the problem.
Trust is incredibly important to our team at Ruby. We’re the premier provider of live virtual receptionist and chat solutions for 13,000 small businesses, and many of our leads come from customer or partner referrals (which, by the way, is the least expensive type of lead out there). We know that quality matters to the businesses we serve. Our customers are trusting us with their reputation and brand, and we take that responsibility seriously by creating meaningful relationships with their callers and website visitors.
SmallBizLady: What are the things that keep small business owners from achieving their business goals?
Kate Winkler: In today’s on-demand economy, small business owners need to center on their customers’ or clients’ needs. The number one differentiator for a business right now is customer service. By ensuring a friendly, responsive, professional, and personal experience for everyone you serve, you’ll win every opportunity and stand out as a leader in your industry.
Second, business owners need to make sure they’re understanding and making the most of their data. Data is your best friend for making business decisions. The wonderful thing about data is it’s not emotional; it simply tells you what’s going on, what could be changing, and where you might need to double-down, shift your strategy, or try a different approach.
To generate and make use of the most important data for your business, be sure to establish key performance indicators, particularly your business’s unique “forward indicators”—those metrics that will be used to determine if things are progressing on track or starting to slip. Your key performance indicators might include numbers such as cash flow forecasts, customer acquisition costs, customer churn, inventory shrinkage, and so on. Look at macro and micro data trends and consider how certain patterns may positively or negatively impact your business. Keep in mind that one data point isn’t a trend! Make sure to seek out multiple information sources to establish your truth and define the right path forward for your business.
Another factor that holds too many businesses back is the pressure to do everything alone. It’s challenging enough to keep your company running day-to-day. You don’t need to take on growth yourself. By partnering with the right organizations and outsourcing thoughtfully, you can scale your business without committing to an investment of money, energy, and time beyond what you can handle. But not every business growth solution is right for your company. Choose tools you feel comfortable using and providers who take an active, hands-on role in growing your business, keeping you informed while taking work off your plate, so you can focus on what you do best.
SmallBizLady: What is the best business advice you ever got?
Kate Winkler: A lot of the business advice I’ve received over my career got thrown out the window in 2020. We’re navigating a whole new world, and what’s worked in the past isn’t necessarily what’s working now—or what’s going to work in the future. Experience has been a far greater teacher over the past 18 months. Between getting 600+ employees safely working from home in 11 days (with no service disruptions to our customers), to hiring and onboarding 200 people in 90 days, to launching our service 24/7/365 in the middle of the pandemic, some of my greatest learning lessons have been:
- Success is a team effort
- Collaboration sparks innovation
- Intuition is just as important as expertise
Some of the most useful advice I’ve heard from business leaders in recent months centers on the power of vulnerability. You don’t have to have all of the answers right now—no one does. It’s okay if things are broken—your supply chain, your customer support model, etc. It’s okay to be vulnerable in front of your employees, your customers, your business partners. It’s okay to ask for help. You might be surprised to see how the people around you—your network, your partners, your team—spring into action when they understand there’s a need and know they can be part of the solution.
And vulnerability goes both ways. Be willing to have honest conversations with employees as well as customers to understand the sources of pain in order to navigate through this moving maze. Be willing to step forward with a new vision. Maybe you’ve always done things a certain way, but guess what? The world is different now—and your path to success is probably different, too. See it as an opportunity. I have a feeling the best days are ahead of us.
How to Run a Successful Online Business
Sharie Hendricks is a passionate candle lover and entrepreneur. As the founder of Laguna Candles, she has built an award-winning candle manufacturing company that produces ecologically sustainable candles based in the coastal community of Laguna Beach, California. Some of their past clients include HomeGoods, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, and many celebrity candle brands. Sharie started her family business in 2003. Laguna Candles utilizes a proprietary coconut oil wax blend, and all candles are lovingly hand-poured and hand-crafted. They often feature local artisan vessels and offer an array of home decor and wellness products, including heirloom artisan candles, corporate gifts, diffusers, private label candles, and candle-making classes. For more information: www.lagunacandles.com
SmallBizLady: How did I get started in the candle business?
Sharie Hendricks: I started Laguna Candles for two reasons. The first reason was my love for candles and a desire to create a clean-burning candle experience. The second reason was my three daughters. When they were younger, I wanted them to grow up able to choose between working for someone or themselves. My mom was an entrepreneur, and so were my grandparents, and they instilled in me the importance of passing a legacy on to our children.
SmallBizLady: How have you grown your business online?
Sharie Hendricks: I’ve grown Laguna Candles online retail business with social media, blogging, and an email newsletter. We have invested a lot of time building our brand on Instagram and Facebook. We have a Shopify eCommerce site, and we have utilized a lot of their plugins to help with our customer service and follow-up systems. We also use the service Ruby to help us manage inquiries from our private label candle business. It saves us a lot of time in our manufacturing facility that we are not fielding calls during our critical production time.
SmallBizLady: What was the biggest lesson you learned during the pandemic?
Sharie Hendricks: The biggest lesson I learned during the pandemic was how important it is to willingly help others when there is a need. We kept our staff and even hired some more folks who just needed an opportunity. We are a black woman-owned family business, and our community was heavily impacted by the pandemic. We were forced to close our retail shop as well as our showroom. We decided to pivot to focus on our online business. There were many of our customers at home last year, and they supported our business by ordering candles on our website, and we were very appreciative. We also realized that many customers were out of work, and we wanted to be supportive of them. We got so many requests for information on how to start a candle business, so we created our Private Label Starter Package Kit for those who want to launch their first dream candle business.
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