There's an astounding spectrum of professionalism in small business. Some almost effortlessly put customer's needs and problems first, while others let their drama and dysfunctions dictate how they do business. Like it or not, customers get dragged along for the ride.
No matter how good you are, making customers jump through hoops dealing with your issues is no way to get repeat business in a competitive market.
My dentist spent countless weeks getting a new bridge done just right. We had all kinds of problems with temporaries coming lose and cracking and the lab messing up. It took way more of her time than it should have, including working through lunch and coming in on her day off. But you know what? She never once complained or put herself first. She just kept thanking me for being so patient.
My wife and I are regulars at a local - some would call it boutique - supermarket. The prices may be a bit higher than Safeway, but the head of the meat and seafood department will only recommend the freshest fish to us because he knows my wife's picky about that sort of thing. And it's not just a relationship thing. He treats everyone that way because that's how the store does business.
That's because they make business with me - the customer - about solving my problems, instead of making me - the customer - deal with theirs. And that makes it very easy to overlook the minor inconveniences of doing business with them.
The same goes for B2B. I've stuck with quite a few vendors for many, many years for that same reason. A PR agency, a Web development company, an executive coaching firm, a production company, even a small business insurance agent. Sure, they're all competent; you've got to be just to make the cut. And one or two may even be among the best at what they do. But I'd stick with them even if they weren't.
On the flip side, I've worked with vendors and contractors that were so dysfunctional, so finicky, so difficult to work with, that I would inevitably find myself jumping through one hoop after another to support them. They could be the absolute best at what they do and I still wouldn't hire them again or send referrals their way. I'm sure they get repeat business from some customers, but frankly, I don't know who would put up with that crap when there's plenty of competition.
And that's really what it comes down to. These days, customers are busier and more stressed than they used to be. And there are way more choices and competitors than there used to be. B2C, B2B, it really doesn't matter. If you've got a small business, getting the job done at a reasonable price is no longer a competitive advantage; it just gets you in the game. If you want repeat business, if you want to outpace the competition, you need to focus on solving customer problems while making sure they never have to deal with yours.
That will make the difference.