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As we begin the final month of our fifth year as a weekly Small Business Focus column in the Deseret News, we would like to inaugurate an innovation to our format. During June, we plan to focus on a major theme. The idea is to provide you, our readers, a more in-depth look at a topic of interest. Our focus during these next few weeks is customer awareness.

If you are a regular reader of this column, you probably know that our contributors come from all walks of small-business life. Our customer awareness series is no exception. In preparation for this series, we have invited contributors to examine several facets of customer awareness from several vantage points.In addition to articles on "best" and "worst" practices in our community, we have expanded the focus to include advice from the Better Business Bureau and the Utah Division of Consumer Protection. We thank the fine people at each of these institutions for their assistance with this series, especially Bill Beadle, president of the Salt Lake Area Better Business Bureau, and Francine Giani, director of the Utah Division of Consumer Protection.

Our reason for selecting customer awareness as our first focus topic comes from a growing sense that the economic fate of the small-business sector in the 1990s will largely be determined by how well we know and serve our customers.

Customers are the lifeblood of any business. According to noted Harvard professor of entrepreneurship, Jeff Timmons, in the past few decades virtually all the net new jobs in the United States have come and are likely to continue to come from new and expanding firms. If these firms fail due to low customer awareness, where will the jobs come from?

Customer awareness is a two-way street. Both the business and the customer participate in the relationship. We believe that small businesses need to be more aware of ways to surprise and delight customers as suggested by Peters and Waterman's "In Search of Excellence."

But customers must also be aware of their rights and of the expectations and needs of the small businesses that they patronize. In this series we hope to improve and enhance this awareness.

So, in the next few weeks, watch this space! We hope to present several new and interesting ways to view customer awareness. Yes, we will try to disguise the name of businesses identified as "worst cases."

No, we won't pass up the opportunity to award a "bouquet" or two BY NAME to the businesses that are examples of the "best" in small business customer awareness. And, as always, we look forward to your comments and suggestions.