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Customisation: Everything Small Businesses Need to Know

When your competition is only a click away, it’s critical to offer the specific, customised offering that a prospective customer is after. But that’s easier said than done — so here’s why customisation matters and what to do about it.

In our 5th edition of the Small and Medium Business Trends Report, business leaders named two top challenges that remained consistent both before and during the pandemic: personalisation and bringing innovative offerings to the market. 

In other words, small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) need to be thinking about customisation. While customers crave personalised interactions and experiences, they also want services and products that are tailored to their exact needs. The business landscape had already changed before the pandemic, but now customer expectations are even higher. 

Technology has given customers access to a greater range of products, which means they have more choice — and power — than ever before. Thirty years ago, you’d generally tell the customer what you stocked and they’d buy the thing that was the closest match to what they were after — they didn’t have many other options. Now, customers can shop online from anywhere in the world. They can compare 20 different versions of a product in minutes and decide which one is the best fit for them.

This surge in choice means that if you’re not customising your products and services to individually suit a customer’s needs, they can (and often will) go find exactly what they’re after elsewhere.

But let’s slow down for a second — almost any SMB leader can tell you that customising everything for everyone simply isn’t realistic (or profitable). So how can SMBs approach customisation in a way that’s right for their business, customers and employees?

Getting started with customisation as a small business

The best place to start on any customisation journey is to provide your customers with a voice, a direct line of communication with your business. It’s only by listening to your customers that you can get a true understanding of their wants and needs, and then decide whether you can fulfill them or not. 

Here are two steps to help you do that.

1. Deciding whether customisation is right for your small business

In certain instances, customisation might not make business sense. If you have a physical product, customisation can be very expensive — it may not be achievable.

The danger with customisation is that you can get pulled off in all different directions, so you need to be careful not to lose sight of what your business stands for, and decide early on how far you want to go. If you commit to addressing each and every customer demand, your product or service could get diluted in a way that negatively impacts the business. Plus, meeting a customer demand won’t necessarily be profitable in every instance.

Instead, you need to find ways to cut through the noise and identify the most critical or popular demands — these are often the ones that will have the biggest impact. That identification usually depends on data. Customer insights — pulled from pockets of customer experience like your website, service team, or social media channels — can be your best tool in clarifying which customisations will make the biggest difference. For instance, do sales reps frequently hear that customers would be more willing to subscribe to a service if it contained a particular option? Are customers frequently searching your website for a product variation you don’t offer? 

A customer relationship management (CRM) solution can help you thread together this type of data and ensure you’re getting a complete picture of what customers are saying, needing or wanting. 

It’s also worth looking at your competition. If you have a captive audience that can’t get your products or services elsewhere, then there may not be a need for customisation at this stage.

Also, customisation may not be the best business strategy if you’re the expert in your product category — particularly if it’s a product that you’ve brought to market. In this case, you’re in a position to educate your customers on the benefits of the product configuration the way it is and the negative impact customisation might have.

2. Mass customisation: balancing flexibility with process

One of the most critical considerations is striking the right balance between process and flexibility. You need to be flexible to deliver on your customers’ individual needs, but you also need the processes that ensure a great customer experience. Too much flexibility can put pressure on your business model, increase the cost of business and cause discontent among employees.

One of the easiest places to insert flexibility into the process is through the use of technology that enables the process to be changed without losing its core objectives and production to be easily scaled.

It’s harder to be flexible where people are involved in the delivery process. Employees typically need some level of consistency to feel comfortable and confident in doing their job. They shouldn’t be having to adapt too much, and change too much, within the process, because uncertainty in job roles can breed problems internally — which often translates to problems externally, like negative impacts to customer experience.

Ultimately, embedding the right business processes to support customisation is critical. If you customise your products and services but compromise on quality, you might find yourself back to square one. And employees need the right processes and tools to be confident about the outer boundaries of flexibility — and to ensure they aren’t spending too much time on a single process, task or customer problem.

For many SMBs, digital solutions have been instrumental in scaling these sorts of processes and digitising manual workflows that prevent employees from focusing on higher-value tasks. In fact, according to the Small and Medium Business Trends Report, more than half (57%) of SMB leaders say their businesses would not have survived the pandemic if they had been using technology from a decade ago.

Determining the right type and degree of customisation is a bit of a balancing act, especially when you need the processes and tools to support employees. Data will be one of your best tools in striking that balance. 

So what steps will your business take today to find the right flexibility and stay ahead of the curve?

Knowledge is power! See all the other insights from over 2,500 small and medium business owners and leaders worldwide.

Salesforce Staff

The 360 Blog from Salesforce teaches readers how to improve work outcomes and professional relationships. Our content explores the mindset shifts, organizational hurdles, and people behind business evolution. We also cover the tactics, ethics, products, and thought leadership that make growth a meaningful and positive experience.

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