In the last few weeks I’ve emailed and/or left voice mails for five local businesses with questions, appointment requests, etc. Guess how many have responded? One. My impression of the others dropped dramatically. What message does that send? Customers and prospects are unimportant. Or simply that our company just can’t seem to do some basic “blocking and tackling”; something the average person seems to be able to do in their personal and professional lives. And I’ll just that bet you’ve had similar experiences. It got me to thinking: Can simply responding to a communication actually be a competitive advantage? Believe it or not, it just might be.
Now I don’t really think that simply responding to calls, voice mails, and emails that come in is the basis for a long-term competitive advantage for your business. A true competitive advantage should be based on something with a lot of customer value and is something difficult for competitors to replicate.I do think being responsive has value for most customers. But how hard is it for a competitor to respond to inquiries in a timely way? Seems pretty darn easy doesn’t it? But you know what? Many are just not doing it. And I have no idea why not. It shows interest, respect, and at a minimum prevents brand and image erosion in the mind of a consumer. So for now (and maybe for a long time) you can actually set yourself apart by being responsive. I’d encourage you to explore how you are responding to your inquiries. Here are a few tips to think about so you can maximize your responsiveness…
IT STARTS WITH CULTURE
As with just about everything, being responsive begins with a culture that embraces openness and the personal touch. If you build a culture based on helping your target customers you and your team will naturally look for ways to address their concerns and answer their questions as a way of engaging with them. Start by hiring only people with positive, friendly personalities. Then look for ways to actively and positively engage with your market.
USE THAT TECHNOLOGY
Sometimes smaller businesses go to great lengths to get the basics set up – a website, email, phone service and voice mail. But sometimes they forget to make sure that they provide an easy way for others to contact them. Your site needs contact info all over it. It needs a Contact Us page. Make it easy for customers and prospects to get in touch with you. Make sure you have the technology in place to contact you and let you know that an inquiry has been received.
One thing that’s so easy to do with emails is to send an immediate response letting them sender know that you have received their inquiry and will respond quickly. And then DO IT (see below)!
Another aspect of technology you might consider is creating a repository of the questions that come in. Analyze that repository to find questions or issues that seem to arise consistently. Then perhaps release a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) list. That might also head off having to deal with the same question over and over.
And then there’s the other end of all this – the receipt of the message and the response. Quite honestly, this is where so many companies fall down. They may be getting inquiries but no one is checking for them. No one checks that email mailbox. No one checks the voice mails. Why? Often because it’s no one person’s responsibility. Be clear about who is responsible for addressing questions. Make sure that you assign this task to someone. And be sure that you have coverage at all times.
Know who is responsible for responding to whatever inquiries come in the door. And it doesn’t always have to be the same person. Rotate people in and out of this role – weekly, daily, or even a few hours at a time.
Now – a word about message response. Do those charged with responding actually knowhow to respond? The best thing you can do is to (in addition to infusing your culture with a bias toward customer engagement instead of avoidance) is to train your staff on how to support your brand, your message, your image, your vision…and then let them go. Do some role-playing to make sure they feel comfortable respond the right way. And coach them that it’s okay to be human and personable.
In today’s world of national and international brands and big-box stores, consumers are looking more and more for a real connection to the brands they use. And smaller company brands are best positioned to do this. They are local and are often share more of a deeper passion for a consumer’s interests. Use that to your advantage.
Being responsive is not hard. It’s really more a matter of culture, organization, technology, and accountability. Take the time to put these elements in place and you will see increased engagement with your market. The respect you show customers and prospects and your passion for engaging them in a conversation will go a long way toward giving your company the positive image you seek. This is one of those issues that flies below the radar screen. No one thinks a lot about it. And I think you can make some good progress by tackling it head-on.
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Making sure your business is competitive can be a hard thing. I know. I can help you design ways to stand apart from the crowd in a unique way. I’d love to chat with you and explore how I can help your business succeed. Feel free to reach out and get in touch. No pressure. Just an informal discussion to explore some ideas. You can reach me at (713) 907-8429 or BCohen@IDiscoverConsulting.com.
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