It’s no secret that consumers and businesses customers alike are becoming more impatient and more demanding. Customers expect businesses to respond to them quickly, if not immediately — and it’s putting a lot of pressure on small businesses.
Here’s a closer look at what customers expect from businesses, customer responsiveness trends, and how to be more responsive to customers so you can boost customer loyalty.
Customer expectations are rising
Business owners surveyed by Broadly in The State of the American Small Business 2019 are feeling pressed to deliver rapid service and customer support. The majority (55%) reported feeling like they had an hour or less to respond to a potential customer before the prospect moves on to a competitor.
In fact, they’re right: One-third of consumers in the study expect small businesses to respond to them within an hour to earn their business. And over half of customers (51%) will definitely go elsewhere if a business takes six hours or more to respond.
In a survey by Zingle, the No. 1 thing customers say would improve the customer experience is “faster response times.”
How small businesses respond to customers
What tools are small business owners using to communicate with customers? According to Broadly:
- Phone calls: 89%
- Email: 86%
- Text messaging: 54%
- Social media: 49%
Overall, consumers in the survey prefer to communicate with businesses by email (57%) followed by phone (50%) and text (27%). Although consumers ages 18 to 34 also prefer email, fewer of them prefer phone (42%) and more of them prefer text (34%) compared to consumers in general. Clearly, as millennials and Generation Z come to the forefront of society, mobile communications will become more important for small businesses.
But companies often fall short when it comes to customer communication. More than 6 in 10 companies do not respond to customer-service emails, according to a recent study by SuperOffice. A whopping 90% of companies do not acknowledge to customers that their email has been received. Even if they do respond, 97% of companies never follow up to see if the customer was satisfied with the response.
7 ways to be more responsive to customers
When it comes to how quickly you need to respond to customers and potential customers, there’s only one answer: as fast as possible. How can you be more responsive to customers? Try these tips.
1. Ask your customers what they want. A survey of your existing customers can show you which customer service channels they prefer. For example, do they want the ability to make appointments on your website for your plumbing services? Would they be happy to deal with a chatbot if they got a faster answer? Your customers’ preferences may surprise you.
2. Manage customer expectations. While you should strive to be as responsive as possible on each communication channel, you can also guide customers to the channel that will best serve them. For example, my hairdresser recently told me that a lot of people contact him via Yelp. Since he is frequently busy with clients and not able to check his phone for this type of communication, his website social media accounts alert customers that for a faster response, they should call the salon by phone.
3. Develop procedures. Set benchmarks for how quickly your team needs to respond to customer inquiries or customer-service questions, and make sure everyone knows these goals. Benchmarks may vary from channel to channel; customers may expect a faster response on Twitter, for instance, then they would on email.
4. Educate your employees. Make sure your team knows how to answer customer-service questions. You can create an online knowledge base with answers to common questions. This also helps ensure that your employees are being consistent in what they tell your customers.
5. Provide self-service options. Something as simple as a frequently asked questions (FAQ) section on your website can answer many of your customers’ questions without their needing to contact you directly. A company that sells to business customers could offer regular customers the option to reorder products online instead of having to speak to their sales representative.
6. Use technology. This can be as simple as setting up your Facebook page to send instant replies or using a social media-management app to track all your social media channels in one place and get alerts of customer comments or questions. You can also implement customer-service software to automate and streamline customer service. Zendesk, Freshdesk, and Zoho Desk are among popular apps that can handle tasks such as prioritizing customer calls, answering customer questions via chatbots, and enabling customer self-service.
7. Stay human. While speed is of the essence, rushing too quickly to help a customer can also cause problems. You and your employees must remember to listen to customer complaints, and make sure you really hear what customers are saying. No matter how much technology and automation you implement, it’s the human touch that really makes the difference in being truly responsive to your customers.