If you’ve been in business long enough, you will indeed know that timing is everything.
Because no sooner than Part 1 of this piece appeared a few weeks back, a small business client who is pretty much technology-illiterate lost a piece of business due to not communicating the way the client wanted to.
It occurred when they failed to respond to an appointment request a customer had sent via their website.
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It started on Tuesday, May 14, when the customer submitted the request for an appointment the following Friday or Saturday. As backup, one of our team sent a copy of the request to staff as well.
Given it was at least three days away, the business in question should have had plenty of time to respond in time.
The next thing they knew, they received this email from the same customer:
“Please don’t make an appt for me, as I’ve made one at another provider. Thanks and regards – Customer Name”
But this email was received on Monday, May 20 – three days after the day the appointment was requested for.
Yes, you guessed it. Staff had not bothered to respond to the customer at all, by any method.
Fail with a capital ‘F’
Clearly the customer was so disappointed that she didn’t even bother to call to find out about the fate of the appointment request. She simply took her money and went elsewhere.
To any self-respecting business operator, such an email would send shivers up the spine.
So despite being sent an initial email as well as a backup by our staff, nobody had bothered to respond to the customer at all in what amounted to six days!
Unfortunately, this occurred before I had a chance to write this piece, on the more operational side of communications – day-to-day business interactions. Not that it would have made any difference with the client in question.
An all too common occurrence in small business
This client is no Robinson Crusoe. There are hundreds of thousands of businesses who have not kept pace with the way their customers like to do business with them – and are losing significant business as a result.
This particular case was a no-brainer. Staff simply had to respond to the email in anything approaching a reasonable timeframe and they would have retained the business.
Better still, they could have gone one step better and incorporated real-time online booking into their website rather than introduce the manual process of the confirmation email or phone call.
Ah, I hear you exclaim. But that’s expensive!
Actually, it’s not.
Real-time online booking systems that will facilitate a secure deposit are now available for less than $30 a month or, in some cases, for a small percentage.
That’s a small price to pay for ensuring business comes your way and you provide the service your customer wants.
What’s not to like?
They could even have had a deposit paid at the same time, providing an additional cashflow benefit.
The other lesson learned from this failure was that of offering a communication method that the business was not either set up for or committed to.
Had the website not offered the appointment request option, then presumably the client would have phoned to make the appointment instead.
Or would they?
What if they were extremely busy, and only had time to rattle off the appointment request? Or if the appointment was confidential, so a phone call might not have been desirable or practical. Or it could have been after hours and the customer didn’t have time to play phone tag the next day?
And so on, and so on.
Give the people what they want
The reality is, these days, customers expect to be serviced on the spot so that they can get on with the next thing in their lives. And the reality is that either online booking or an appointment request is an extremely convenient way to do that – particularly when they are so accustomed to booking travel, accommodation and entertainment online and have been doing so for some years now.
It’s up to smaller business operators to give customers the service they want, the way they want it.
If they want to email, let them. If they want to book or buy online, let them. If they want to pick up a phone, let them. If they want to send a letter, let them.
Certainly do not force them to use a method they don’t want to use.
Or, as this unfortunate story illustrates, really run the risk losing the business altogether.
Craig Reardon is a writer, educator and operator of independent web services firm for SMEs, The E Team.