The proverb “Time and tide wait for no man” has been around for at least 800 years and, while it predates modern English, it is as relevant today as it was in the distant past. It highlights the fact that however much we might personally like things to slow down or pause to meet our own timetable or pace of life, nature dictates that they won’t. In today’s world, everything moves at an ever quicker pace, whether it’s sharing information or the cars we drive, right through to personal demands and expectations. But one thing I’ve found that’s sadly lagging behind is this industry’s speed of actions and communication, particularly when it comes to questions and enquiries from existing and potential customers. I come from a world of work where the speed of response to a customer is pivotal as to whether or not you can secure their trust and their business. My old business mentor impressed the importance of response speed in no uncertain terms, and today I want to pass his wisdom onto you.

Instant

Make no mistake, the speed at which you respond to a customer, whether they’re an existing client or a potential new one, is directly proportionate to the number of customers you attract and retain, and the quality of the relationships that develop. Responding in minutes rather than hours, or even days, makes an enormous difference, especially in a world when customers expect instant results. Life is increasingly hectic for all of us, and the world is open for business 24/7. We all have lots to do, expectations continually rise and tasks need to be completed so we can move on to the next. Your customers need instant answers and they can’t, and won’t, hang around waiting for you, so you have to be prepared to act faster, more effectively and efficiently. Time truly is of the essence.

Or Filtered

If you’re going away or know that you’re going to be indisposed, perhaps providing lessons, consider setting automatic/out of office reply systems so that anyone who emails or phones you will receive a short explanation, acknowledgement of the message and that you will respond shortly. This simple solution alone will buy you time, and make them feel confident their request will be dealt with. Make sure it’s a friendly, but professional, greeting that thanks them for their enquiry and confirms that you’ll respond within a reasonable number of hours. Social media platforms also offer auto-responders that will provide a reply in the event that someone messages you through your Facebook page or the like. Explore these options – it doesn’t take long and, once it’s done, it’s done. It’s a good idea to consider working with a call answering/diary management service, which takes away the pressure of unanswered calls and enquiries, while providing an instant, friendly personal response. Current or potential customers are able to speak with a friendly voice, explain their question and often get an instant answer. It really helps with your professional image and improves your chances of securing new business.

But Hot

The most important thing is that you don’t delay dealing with a new message or call – they’ve shown interest in the service you provide, and they need to know that you’re interested, and they’ve attracted your attention. Even if your reply is simply to acknowledge and thank them for the message, it makes a huge difference.
No reasonable person expects you to be at their beck and call, but they don’t want to be ignored either. Patience wears thin very quickly, especially with new customer enquiries, and ‘radio silence’ quickly leads to feelings of resentment and frustration that can prove hard to shake off later. It’s not about how quickly you think things should go, but how quickly your clients expect things to be done, and if you don’t meet their needs, they’ll soon be on the phone to your competitor and taking their business there.

Satisfy Their Thirst

Whenever you meet with someone, be it in person, virtually or audibly over the phone, I would always look to follow it up in writing immediately, summarising the purpose of your communication and setting out what happens next. This could be by letter, email, text message or social media message, it doesn’t matter, just make sure you have squarely put the ball back in their court and that you have a record of your conversation. People move on to their next priority in an instant and will appreciate it – it shows that you’ve understood their needs, are attentive to them and are keen to proceed. It is professional, high quality customer service, and that’s worth its weight in gold for a successful business.

Finally, don’t be afraid to push things along yourself when you speak with clients or follow up. Rather than being passive and saying something like “Let me know when you’re free to meet”, you can suggest a time and ask them to confirm or suggest an alternative. This way, it’s a simpler decision for your customer to make, you can gain their business a lot faster and, in turn, it leaves you more time to deal with your next potential customer.