In order for small businesses to remain competitive in today’s corporate environment, they must bring something to the table that their larger competitors are not.

Customer service is one example of ways in which a business can set itself apart from the competition – often at relatively low cost. If successful, regular customers will be kept loyal and newer ones can be won over from the very start. On top of this, it helps create ‘brand advocates’, who champion a business to their friends and family after receiving good service – effectively marketing the company on its behalf.

One such way of delivering great customer care is the use of SMS marketing, which can prove to be at its most effective for small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

Things to keep in mind

One of the challenges facing SMEs is that of staying at the forefront of customers’ minds. Larger companies have the resources to publish newspapers ads, run TV commercials or air radio campaigns, but for many smaller businesses this simply isn’t an option.

In real terms it means that, the next time a customer thinks about a product or service, smaller firms may not be the first that come to mind, even if they’ve been used in the past. To combat this, SMS marketing can be deployed to ensure brand names can always be recalled as and when they’re needed; something that can be done in a simple way that needn’t feel intrusive.

For instance, a simple message detailing new product lines or a limited-time discount code will not offer value to customers but also provide a suitable reminder, should they be looking for a certain something in the near future.

Tailored and targeted marketing messages

Big firms might have enviable contact lists that stretch into the hundreds or even thousands, but that could actually do more harm than good. This is because it can push businesses into the old technique of batching and blasting, where messages are sent out indiscriminately in the hope that some recipients may find them useful.

This is a lumpen, ineffective technique, though, and one that’s long been out of favour with modern marketers. Instead, messages should be targeted to the user (or at least a demographic to which they belong), in order to maximise their potential. Customers who feel they are been seen as nothing but a number will not only ignore messages but may even choose to actively unsubscribe.

Targeted messages, on the other hand, are likely to be received much more happily as the content is relevant to every single recipient. Not only that, customer service credentials are boosted by dint of each recipient feeling as though a company has made the time to send them a message of real worth.

Keeping customers in the loop

One of the biggest complaints among online shoppers is the feeling of being kept in the dark. Whilst few would want to be updated on the minutiae of their product making its way from warehouse to their front door, many still complain they’ve not been given sufficient information. This issue is only compounded if shoppers then have to make a special journey to collect the parcel from a nearby sorting office, because it arrived on a different day to which they’d been expecting (and in some cases, had taken off work especially).

Whilst email is a common tool for this service, the fact that messages can go hours or even days before they are read means consumers might miss the chance to make amendments should they be necessary. SMS, on the other hand, will pop up with a notification right away, meaning the response time is also drastically shortened. Users can then also reply to the message should they need to make a change or provide any additional information.

It also enables businesses to send short, to-the-point messages detailing an order’s progress that will ensure buyers are kept well informed throughout.

Improving efficiency using SMS

Much of the above has concerned retail, but SMS works just as effectively for businesses offering a service that requires the pre-booking of appointments. Opticians, dentists, hairdressers, cosmetic surgeons, tailors and countless more run their businesses on the basis of pre-booked appointments. For these, one of the biggest costs (and that which is most avoidable) comes from missed appointments.

The professionals with whom people are booking slots are typically very well qualified, which means they also command a high hourly wage. As such, paying them to sit around doing nothing because an individual has failed to turn up does not make good business sense.

Some larger firms can swallow this inefficiency and offset it with gains made elsewhere (think of supermarket opticians as just one example). Smaller companies do not have this luxury, however, so need to ensure their business is running at as close to 100 per cent efficiency as often as possible. One way of doing this is a simple text reminder, which is a low cost way of improving customer service whilst simultaneously lowering the number of no-shows.

Of course, some people will still cancel their appointment upon receiving the text, but sending messages out a day or more in advance should give enough time to fill the recently vacated slot.

The above four benefits are just some of those open to small businesses looking to bolster their customer service offering. In today’s business world, there are many areas in which large corporations have the upper hand, but customer service certainly isn’t one of them. The customer’s experience can make all the difference between them swearing off your company for life or pledging to never go anywhere else again. Huge potential rewards, then, for something which can be achieved at a very low cost indeed.