By Candace Nicholson

Scarcely a week goes by without a small business veteran applauding the importance of developing a niche. The idea of specialization being the key to success is a popular one. Niche businesses hope to serve a select group of clients, who will return to their unique source time and time again.

Although a niche will open doors to customers who will rely on your expertise to deliver what they need, it is not a fail-safe to a successful business. When building your company, the best tool of the trade to encourage an environment of repeat clients will always be great customer service.

The advantages of a niche include developing a recognizable expertise, charging higher rates, and maintaining a higher ROI than you would marketing your services to appeal to everyone. Yet, some entrepreneurs develop a sense of complacency. So they allow the advantages of their niche to slowly morph into an air of exclusivity and bad manners.

Businesses large and small can fall victim to this mindset and forget that it only takes one bad experience to send a customer packing. Angela Walton, marketing communications expert and freelance photographer, recently had a less-­than­-stellar experience with a local grocery co-­op that specializes in organic food.

“My companion received friendly service, but my brother and I? Nope,” Walton shares. On top of being generally rude, when Walton probed for more information about the store’s website, she was met with pretension and indignation. “She looked at me as if I was bothering her and speaking a foreign language,” she continues. “Nothing good about the service here, but lots of healthy, organic products. Too bad I won’t be back.”

Fifteen years ago, this store might’ve had a corner on the organic market in its local area, but thanks to a budding 21st Century health food trend, the co-­op now has its fair share of competitors. They can no longer coast on the assumption that customers have little choice but to seek their business due to their niche. Impeccable customer service would be the easiest and most cost-effective way to set themselves apart from the rest of the pack.

Whether your small business is an ad agency, coffee shop or software company, the industry in your area is rarely so limited that excellent customer service will never be an advantage. Unless you’re Coca­Cola, your target audience isn’t everyone, but that doesn’t mean you don’t want to leave the door open for anyone who may seek your services in the future.

Niches are there to serve an unmet market. When you treat your audience as a “guaranteed sell” regardless of customer service, you’re no longer serving that market. With exceptional service, you will not only retain the clients you have, but leave the door open for quality referrals and expansion beyond your current customer base.

How do you guarantee a positive customer service experience in your company?
How do you handle a negative one?