What we can learn from big business and multi-nationals

Set aside the criticism

Multinational companies have been much in the news recently over their tax arrangements. This is not the place to discuss those, but as we have heard so much criticism of Amazon and Starbucks amongst others I think it is time to remember what we owe these companies in gratitude.

Days of OJ

I first bought books from Amazon.com in 1995. At the time I wanted to purchase publications which were not available in the UK about the trial of O J Simpson. I had watched the trial live on Sky News most nights until the early hours as I was recovering from major but successful surgery, and I was in too much pain to sleep. I made a complete recovery but also became fascinated by the detail and the “bloody glove”  and wanted to read the books from some of the main players.

The only way to get these books was to order them from Amazon in Seattle. They did not work out as too dear, and they were delivered within a week. Actually I made several purchases as the books were published and all arrived fairly quickly considering they came such a long way.

Now Amazon in Europe delivers very quickly even on Super Save / free delivery terms. They have not let me down.

Coffee houses and City business

English: This is a panorama of 3 segments take...

Leadenhall Market. “Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0”

When I first worked in the City of London, it was difficult to get a decent cup of coffee except for the cappuccinos in the Italian diners such as Obertelli’s in Leadenhall Market. This was ironic when remember that the City’s financial business originated in coffee houses; the Stock Exchange, the Baltic (shipping) Exchange and Lloyd’s, the insurance market. When Starbucks moved in, everyone upped their game and their model was copied by others. Suddenly you could get a very good coffee in many places and of course the coffee chains have spread all over the country and the world.

As with Amazon, we have become used to good service and reliable products such that we take them for granted.

Distant days

When I was a young lad we could not always rely on good service from businesses, large for small. I remember that my Mum was happy with the service in the local dress shop but the draper next door was “miserable” and presumably not committed to good service or refunding unhappy customers.

It was a large chain of stores in the UK, Marks and Spencer, who first offered almost no-question refunds on items customer took back. Now nearly all the stores do it. Customer service is a recognised culture.

What lessons can we take?

We in small business can build our reputations by not only offering the great reliable service that many of the large companies manage to deliver, but by putting our own personal stamp on the service. We can be available to the customer and often build a more personal relationship such that we will be recommended and not taken for granted as Starbucks are, though they deserve more.

We can be better than the best large company because we can be flexible and we have discretion, which an employee of a multi-national perhaps cannot always have. Obertelli’s is still in Leadenhall Market too as proof of how a successful small business (as it was) can compete strongly.

So thank you for the lessons, Amazon and Starbucks, and for teaching us customer service and showing us how we can be the best, and even better than you.

What do you think?

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