Too many small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are failing to appreciate the importance of customer service, it has been suggested.
In a study conducted by Epson Business Council, just 29 per cent of UK small businesses expressed the view that customer service is a critical market differentiator in the current climate.
This compares with 84 per cent of SMBs in Spain and 77 per cent in Italy - revealing that more European business owners think customer service can help them stand out from the crowd.
"Companies still aren't placing enough emphasis on customer service, despite the fact it's a key driver of growth in today’s climate," says Neil Colquhoun, director at Epson UK.
"UK owners and managers are currently only spending [less than a third] of their working week in front of customers."
He said this "simply isn't enough" if they are looking to expand and offer the support many customers demand.
Yet 66 per cent of UK SMBs surveyed by Epson said they thought customer acquisition is the only realistic growth strategy in the current climate.
This finding somewhat contradicts their view on the importance of customer service, and suggests many SMBs may need to review their service strategies in order to maximise turnover.
Phil McCabe, senior policy adviser at the Forum of Private Business, said customer engagement and service are "vital to maintaining the position of Britain as a centre of excellence for business".
He claimed this is often how small firms can better their larger competitors.
"In the year of the Olympics, when many British businesses will be presenting our public face to the globe, it's important that leaders from the small business community are prioritising this in the year ahead and not leaving it as an afterthought," Mr McCabe said.
Epson's Mr Colquhoun shares this view - describing 2012 as "an incredibly competitive year" for UK SMBs.
He said small businesses should look to all resources available to help support their existing and potential customers and drive growth.
Posted by Jenny Arthur