When customers need you, are you there — 24/7/365?

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Published: October 10,2005

24.7.365.

That’s the minimum acceptable availability time.

Ever order anything on line after 10 o’clock at night? Of course you have. Everyone has. Could you have gone out to the store at 11 o’clock at night? Or bought that toy at midnight? People buy automobiles nowadays at 1 a.m. and think nothing of it.

Ever try to call someone five minutes after they close, or call too early in the a.m. before they open? What happened? Probably something between disappointing and maddening.

Do you think your customers are any different? Customers have questions all the time. Customers need service all the time. Customers wanna buy something all the time.

And they will buy from the source that is most available. Take the bookstore model. It took Barnes and Noble almost two years to realize that Amazon.com was not a joke. Since then, they’ve spent the last 10 years, and millions of dollars, trying to catch up to a competitor they thought was a mere gnat when they began.

That gnat has now grown into a swarm of locusts that descends on Barnes and Noble’s sales like a plague.

Yes, Barnes and Noble is the biggest. Their bookstores are among the best in the world. But their inability to recognize that customers would buy books at midnight, cost them hundreds of millions of dollars.
24.7.365.

That’s the minimum acceptable availability time.

Here are 6.5 things you can do to insure that you’re ready when your customer needs you, and will insure that you’re ready when your customer wants to give you money.

1. Answer your phone with a live, friendly, human being 24.7.365. Yes it costs a little more, but the phrase, “In order to serve you better, please select from the following seven options” is not only an annoyance to every customer that calls, it’s also a lie.

2. Make your Web site “service friendly.” Can you schedule a service call on your Web site? Can your customers find service answers on your Web site?

3. Make your Web site “question friendly.” Everyone has “frequently asked questions” — but it seems as though those questions are never the questions I want answers to. Just how interactive is your questioning capability?

4. Make your Web site “sales friendly.” Can your customer place an order? Is your e-commerce user-friendly? Can your customer buy in one click?

5. Make your Web site “information friendly.” Can you track a service call or a package? Can you tell me where my order is? Or when it will be shipped? If not, you will lose to someone who can.

6. Create automatic or rapid responses to all Internet and e-mail inquiries. Your customers expect “immediate.” Hey, YOU expect immediate, don’t you?

6.5 Make yourself available before and after hours. If your company can’t, or won’t, do it yourself. Give customers your cell phone. Give customers your e-mail address. Give them more ways to buy — and make it easy for them to spend their money with you.

On the surface, these things don’t look hard to do. So then why does almost no one do them? Global mystery. PLEASE, someone tell me.

TAKE THE AVAILABILITY TEST: Go to your competition’s Web site. Try to buy something at midnight. Try to schedule a service call. Try to ask a question or contact someone by e-mail. Now go to your own site and do the same thing. Did you win? Or will the next person who visits both Web sites go do business with your competitor?

Now call your competition on the phone. Try to place an order for $100,000. Call yourself and do the same. Did you win this time?

The person that is the easiest to do business with — is the person who wins. The person that is the easiest to do business with — is the person who wins the order. The only question that remains is: Is that you?

Availability trumps satisfied or loyal customers. Availability trumps price.
24.7.365.

That’s the minimum acceptable availability time.

GitBit: Send me your best idea or example of being available. Put AVAILABLE in the subject box. I’ll post them all in Sales Caffeine next week. Thanks!

Jeffrey Gitomer, author of “The Sales Bible,” and “Customer Satisfaction is Worthless, Customer Loyalty is Priceless,” is president of Charlotte-based Buy Gitomer. He gives seminars, runs annual sales meetings and conducts training programs on selling and customer service. He can be reached at (704) 333-1112 or e-mail
salesman@gitomer.com.

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