Instant Response Puts Pressure on European SMEs

One in three small businesses in four European economies claims to have lost contracts to competitors because they can’t meet demand from customers for an instant response.

A survey by Vodafone of 1,000 small and medium-sized businesses in the UK, Germany, Spain and Italy found that half felt that the “24-hour society” where customers expected night and day service was the biggest pressure facing their business.

The survey concluded that the internet was to blame for growing customer impatience – the convenience of online shopping and multiple social media channels had increased expectations of fast service delivery. In fact, some 78% of respondents said that providing a rapid response to enquiries was their biggest competitive advantage.

The change in customer behaviour was having an impact on what small businesses required staff to do. According to the research, nearly eight in ten (79%) expected employees to respond immediately to phone calls. One in three (32%) counted on staff to reply instantly to social media enquiries.

“Small businesses are focusing on converting every lead into a sale and those firms that respond the quickest have the upper hand.”

said Vodafone’s business services director, Tom Craig. He also suggested that investment in communications technology was the answer, “to deliver a more professional service with the same number of staff”.

However, Derek Williams, founder of The Wow! Awards for customer service, blamed the recession for a shift in customer behaviour and business marketing, and urged small businesses to focus on their existing customers.

“Customers are being much more cautious in their spending decisions. There’s no shortage of enquiries, but there’s a real lack of a decision to spend. We’re all hungry for business at the moment and it’s easy to keep shaving off the price.”

“But if you strip your costs too much, your service will suffer because you simply can’t afford to provide it. And businesses have made a rod for their own backs with all these low-cost marketing channels. They’re really suffering from their own lack of resources in terms of customer service.”

Williams suggested businesses could help relieve the strain of enquiries by putting clear product, service and pricing information on their websites. They should also be more selective in targeting new customers and looking after existing ones.

“Focus on the customers that are important to you and the clients you’ve already got, because you’ve spent a lot of money getting them. And accept that it’s going to be tough.”

The Instant Response of the Internet Puts Pressure on European SMEs

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