How to keep a small company vibe while growing

November 10, 2016 -  By

In case you haven’t noticed, the number of companies doing more than $1 million in annual revenue is growing significantly. In addition, the number of large companies growing via acquisition has increased, as have the number of once small mid-size companies ($3 million to $5 million) now achieving revenue in excess of $10 million annually.

The smaller company always seems to have a place within a narrow market and does well. But how will the larger companies reconcile size with service and navigate what I like to call the Bermuda Triangle?

Will they maintain that small company service experience as they grow? It seems obvious that you lose some intimacy and connection when you grow—maybe clients lose the ability to call the owner anytime or the ability to talk to the same person handling orders. Or maybe it’s the ease of getting on the schedule at short notice.

These small company advantages are great selling points against big companies. And conventional wisdom says they’re difficult to maintain as success turns into more sales, growth and impersonality. You lose the personal touch. But given the success of many of the larger companies in creating a service culture today, is this actually the case?

What’s happening now is the bigger guys are learning how to turn personality-driven touch into process-delivered touch. Personal touch works great at low volumes where there is less total information to manage and fewer decisions to be made, so reaction time can be fast and usually accurate. And, yes, customers love that.

With growth there’s more total information to process, more decisions to make and more people involved in making them. As a result, response times slow down and customers are less happy. But think about it: The reason the small company outperforms is usually because of a few superstars on staff who make it happen. They are smart, work hard and can juggle lots of information.

Of course, as the company grows, you don’t and can’t have an entire staff of natural superstars. It just doesn’t happen. So, how will the large companies address this challenge? They have to navigate the business trade-offs in the Bermuda Triangle, making the business and investment choices to turn small company inherent advantages into large company sustaining advantages.

This approach requires process-delivered touch systems built on a common software database that manages and shares the increase in total information easily and in real time and, at the same time, provides dashboard reports about the key customer transactions, so any staff member trained in the company’s service goals can respond like a superstar quickly.

There is a win-win to this approach. First, the customer is happy getting small-company service from a large company. Second, the employee is thrilled because he or she feels like a pro having done a great job and maybe even getting great feedback from the customer.

In a process-delivered touch system, everyone can be a superstar. Issues (requests and complaints) are assigned and addressed rapidly, services are delivered as promised, and staff can begin to anticipate needs based on the latest quality assurance or site-walk conditions. A dream? Maybe. But people are working on such things right now as our great industry continues to invest in tools and systems to professionalize everything we do.

To keep that small company feeling:

  1. You have to migrate from being superstar-reliant with a low-overhead staffing structure to an information system that makes the regular staffer perform like a superstar.
  2. You must move from recovery to anticipation. It’s easier to lose and recover a customer when you’re smaller, but it becomes very expensive as you grow. Systems and processes that monitor customer satisfaction provide data for staff to win at the retention game.
  3. You need to incorporate software that provides speedy and accurate information. Larger companies simply cannot rely on superstars (there are not enough of them). They must rely on ordinary people performing in extraordinary ways consistently and intelligently.

The next few years will be interesting as service overtakes price as the sustainable advantage. Don’t miss the boat.

About the Author:

Kevin Kehoe, a longtime landscape industry consultant, is managing partner at Aspire Software.

1 Comment on "How to keep a small company vibe while growing"

Trackback | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Rod Bailey says:

    Good article Kevin. This is the conundrum many growing companies face. You’ve got to train customer relations and customer response down into your company as you grow. We called it “Empowerment” and our people got good at it.

    One day a customer I met said “Oh you are with Evergreen Services. Do you work for Don Hermanson?” (One of our Area Managers). My response…”Why yes as a matter of fact, I do!!!!”

    Many years ago Bob and Dick Brickman invited me out to dinner at an ALCA meeting. In the process of conversation I asked them how they kept the customer touch as such a large company. They both broke up laughing and said “Rod, that’s why we invited you out for dinner. How do YOU do it?”

    Keep up the good work Kevin.