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Small-Business Smarts: Where are Your Sticky Points?
By: Glenn Muske, Small Business Consultant - 08/11/2017

As a business owner, you are probably aware of the big problem areas in your business. Things such as having inventory on hand when needed, being competitive, and remaining current with new products and trends.

Such items are the big things you, as the owner, notice and that your customers are also bringing to your attention.

These are not your sticky points, however. Sticky points are the little things, like that grain of sand in your shoe. At first it's hardly noticed. Then it becomes an irritant; Builds to an annoyance; and, finally, the customer reaches the breaking point. They don't return and you don't know what happened.

Sticky points are different in each business. They also vary by your customer make-up.

As I think some of the little things that irritate me, I think about cashiers who can't make change. And in this day of technology, we have the phone system where we have menus and press numbers over and over and then end up leaving a message (and another sticky point here is when it takes over an hour to get back in touch with me -- and the same goes for email).

Sticky points might also be crucial wording put in a very small font. What about having to enter the same information several times? How about appointment times that seem more of an approximation rather than a specific? Or might it be not being open when I am have time to shop?

A friend of mine would comment that a sticky point of his is that hard plastic casing many products come in. It's the type that requires a seriously sharp metal object to get into it.

So what can you do? First, you need to identify what the issues are? Start with asking but don't be surprised if none of these issues come out. We, as consumers don't think of these very often. Remember, they are just little irritants.

When having such conversations, let the customer speak without you defending the practice. You may not have control over the packaging. Don't talk, though, just listen.

Another great source of information is your front-line employees. Customers offer lots of little bits of information while being helped. Your employees need to listen for the clues, be prepared to ask a clarifying question or two, and be sure to catch the customer's name so that a follow-up can be done. To support this, mentor your employees and let them know how much you value this information.

Finally, remember to thank the customer. And keep them up-to-date with how you are trying to resolve the issue. Even if you can't change anything, at least let the customer know you tried.

So, plan on doing some digging. This means having conversations. Make them short, focused, and ongoing. Think over what you heard and what further questions you need to ask the next time.

Don't let the sticky point drag your business down.

Information on starting, managing, and growing small business development can be found in many locations including small-businesssmarts.com/ and the ND Small Business Development Centers, ndsbdc.org/. In addition, the Small Business Administration and the Service Corps of Retired Executives are available for assistance. Finally, resources can be found at Extension offices, your local chamber of commerce, powerofbusiness.net, www.eXtension.org/entrepreneurship, and from several state agencies.

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