Did you know that we spend approximately 35% of our lives sleeping? It's true, and that's okay because lots of sleep is healthy, but it's not so healthy for small businesses.
After all, the nine to five work day is an endangered species. The line between business and non-business hours is becoming increasingly blurred and merchants who don't reply to off-hour customers promptly will lose out on potential business and gain a reputation for being unaccommodating.
To a smart business, there are no business hours because all hours are business hours.
What to Do About It
Get a Website - A Serious Website
If your business doesn't already have a website, the good news is that you have the potential to dramatically increase your revenue and customer base. A good website acts as a firm handshake and business card to both customers who have discovered your establishment via the internet and as a mission statement to locals trying to find out more about your business.
Even if your site doesn't possess the ability to handle transactions, it can still provide information on the services and products you provide, as well as simple but crucial details like your operating hours, physical address, and contact email. Secondary functions of a good site can include things like product/service reviews, helpful blogs and videos that bring clarity to what your establishment is all about.
A few questions form a good litmus test for how helpful your site is:
Is it straightforward and clear?
Is it helpful?
Does it make you appear trustworthy?
No matter the time of day, a solid website projects accessibility and legitimacy to potential customers.
Automated Phone Systems
Improperly handled automated systems can be a huge turnoff to customers, but in reality, there won't always be someone available to take calls.
There are a few ways to make your automated system a more positive experience for your customer base:
During business hours, give users the option of speaking with a live person immediately Even if it means there will be a wait, customers shouldn't have to listen to a robot listing a lengthy options menu to be given that option. After all, chances are they know why they're calling and their goal is to speak with someone. Otherwise they'd just visit your website.
After hours, quickly give callers an option to leave their contact information Sometimes a generic "Leave your name and number and we'll contact you as soon as possible" is the best and easiest solution, but make sure to follow up in the morning. It may be tedious to retrieve after-hours information the moment you open your office, but it shows customers that they're valued and that they can trust your word. Since many customers expect to be let down in this regard, prompt replies go a long way.
If necessary, hire help When the volume of after-hours calls exceeds your ability to handle them alone, adding an employee, even a part-time employee, can at once make your business more responsive and ease your burden.
In case of emergencies If you're in a position that your business is the only thing standing between your customer and real and immediate catastrophe (business or otherwise), give them a way to contact you directly. For the sake of establishing boundaries, you may make this the last option, but it should be available. There's no better way to build trust.
Communication through email, in many ways, is easier for both small businesses and small business customers. When handled correctly, email exchanges are quick and convenient, and give customers plenty of much-needed information: they provide links, pictures, videos, and a clarity of communication that can be difficult on the phone. And they're the easiest way for businesses to communicate with clients after you've closed your doors.
Here's how your business can master the email game:
Reply promptly Everyone has a smartphone these days and customers know it. If you're a small business owner with local clientele, customers assume that you can access your inbox from anywhere. Respond as quickly as possible, even if it is short and sweet.
Link to your website from your email They may be able to find the information they need online. Maybe you can direct them to the right page to save them time. A phone number should always be provided, as well.
Reply succinctly Your emails should be short, informative and to the point. A good rule of thumb is that your customers should be able to find the answer to their questions in your response in about 10 seconds.
Address customers personally Refer to them by name and repeat their reason for contacting you. "Steve, I'll be happy to answer your questions about our ink-cartridge warranty policy." This displays your understanding of their needs and helps guide your response; it's also good manners.
Always Be Open
Being open is different than being present at your business. The goal is to ensure that customers walk away from your business, so to speak, with more than they had before the after-hours interaction.