One of the themes we often revisit in these pages is the difficulty smaller businesses have adapting to the ‘always on’ world we now inhabit.
Few businesses have grasped the notion of providing online information about their business which is fresh and current, instead continuing the ‘set and forget’ practices of a now past print-only world.
And this slowness to grasp this new reality is starting to negatively impact their customers.
Case studies in website maintenance failure
Only this week, my wife and I experienced two instances where outdated website information disrupted our plans – in one case with almost dire consequences.
The first occurred on Thursday evening. I was heading to a bar I hadn’t been to on the other side of town to catch some live music and friends. So as to plan my meal for the evening, I visited the website to find out what their situation was with food.
I was pleased to find they offered a tasty and affordable bar menu, so I decided I would dine there for my evening meal.
To my disappointment, when I got there to order, the bartender told me that the only thing on offer were two kinds of dumpling – a nice enough snack, but certainly not enough to keep the wolves from the gastric door.
A case of false advertising
Naturally I protested and complained about the misleading website, but this was greeted with a shrug and a ‘that’s all we have tonight’.
Because the live music was of a standard that I didn’t want to miss, I decided to order said dumplings anyway with the intention of grabbing something more substantial on the way home.
I also decided to drink light beer for the rest of the evening given that the snack would do nothing to absorb a heavier alcohol component.
Sure enough, after the entertainment and socialising were done, I grabbed something more substantial for the drive home.
You guessed it, only a few minutes from home what should appear in front of me but the flashing lights and wands of a booze bus.
“No matter,” I thought, “I’ve only had two glasses of full strength alcohol all evening so I would sail through”.
Or so I thought.
The pleasant officer looked at my breathalyzer reading and paused.
“You far from home?”
“No, just a few minutes away.”
“Well that’s good because you do have a reading. May I see your licence, please?”
I felt the blood rush from my face.
“Sure officer.” She checked my licence and I checked a building panic attack.
“OK on your way then – but go straight home now”.
A very close shave
I’d got out of jail – almost literally. I did as I was told and headed straight home, cursing the venue for not supplying the menu advertised on the website and thanking my lucky stars I didn’t have another full strength drink.
But what if I had suffered the threatened consequences? I certainly would have no hesitation in capturing a screen grab of the venue website in question to prove that my intentions were sound and that they in fact had contributed to my condition by failing to provide what was advertised on their website.
Others suffering the same fate might be much more litigious and seek legal advice on the matter, something I’m sure many judges would take into consideration if it came to that.
What about liability?
The penalties for misleading advertising are well documented and I suspect that out-of-date websites may well fall into the same category.
And what if I’d had an accident? And hurt someone? Or worse?
Only a few days later, my wife suffered a less threatening but similarly disruptive situation when she planned her exercise routine around her gym’s opening hours.
She got to said gym at the advertised time only to find they were closed – forcing her to miss her normal session and too late to arrange an alternative. It was yet another case of the business in question failing to keep their website updated and current.
Some may think that it was our own fault for relying on something that isn’t yet part of the operational culture of smaller business – that we should have double checked by calling them to ensure what was on the website was correct.
And given these experiences, it appears that we will need to do that with these particular businesses – if we choose to patronise them again.
Keeping up with anyone with a smartphone
But I see it as a case of business not keeping up with the needs of their customers.
The reality is that since the advent of smartphones some five years ago, most of the public are checking websites and even social networks for the latest information on… well, pretty much everything!
Including opening and holiday hours of businesses they patronise.
A study of Australian smartphone use commissioned last year by Google found that a whopping 86% of respondents use their smartphones to search for local business information.
So these days it’s up to smaller business to adopt the now very affordable website editing technology and editing procedures to ensure their business information is completely up to date.
Otherwise they will suffer, at best, disgruntled customers or, at worst, something a whole lot worse.
In addition to being a leading eBusiness educator to the smaller business sector, Craig Reardon is the founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team, which was established to address the special website and web marketing needs of SMEs in Melbourne and beyond.