In a conversation with Alex Bard, CEO of Assistly (now, part of, I learned a few interesting things about customer service solutions for small to medium-size businesses (SMBs): (1) Companies can be too small to have customer service organizations; (2) the main competition of vendors of SMB customer service solutions is not each other, but Post-It notes and Gmail; and (3) the service that SMB customers demand is exactly like the service that enterprise customers demand.

So what do each of these points mean?

  • Companies can be too small to have customer service organizations. Without a formal customer service organization, customer-facing personnel such as customer relations managers, CEOs, and marketing folks are on the hook to answer customer inquiries. These employees wear many hats, are on the road a lot, and communicate constantly with one another. And, more than likely, their companies also don’t have formal IT organizations. This means that customer service software must be tailored to a business user: easy to deploy, easy to configure, and supporting a multitude of mobile devices. Customer service software must also have built-in collaboration features, alerts, and notifications allowing personnel to quickly work together on a customer issue for quick resolution.
  • The main competition of vendors to SMBs are not each other, but Post-It notes and Gmail. The SMB market has been underserved for a long time, and established software vendors’ price points are too high to support a handful of users within a company, some of whom may only be part-time or occasional users. New usage-based models are making the purchase of customer service solutions viable for companies who would otherwise have managed customer inquiries using Gmail, Post-It notes, and TweetDeck.
  • SMB customers and enterprise customers demand the same type of customer experience. What this means is that customers expect to be able to contact a company using voice, electronic (e.g., email, SMS, and chat), and social communication channels. They expect to be able to start a conversation on one channel and continue it on another. They expect conversations across all channels to convey the same information, data, and knowledge. And they expect each interaction to be tailored to the products and services that they have purchased as well as the issue at hand. This means that the sophistication of customer service solutions for the SMB market is not much less than what is needed for the enterprise. In all cases, a negative service experience leads to customer disatisfaction, and an ultimate erosion of brand value. See my 10-part blog series on how to deliver an optimal customer service experience.

There are a number of customer service vendors in the SMB market, and Paul Greenberg on his CRM Idol site has done a wonderful job profiling a great number of them.