Post-Irma Thoughts for Small Business Owners

 

As I personally deal with the impact of Hurricane Irma, I am learning much about the challenges and implications for small business owners and consumers.

Supply and Demand

Before Irma, there was a healthy demand in SWFL in the construction, remodeling, home maintenance and related skilled trades. The limited supply of qualified employees is a consistent theme echoed by small business owners.

Irma significantly increased the demand, which greatly accentuated the lack of supply. This combination has caused stress and frustration with both businesses and consumers.

For many consumers, calling a roofing contractor, flooring company, pool screen or enclosure company, carpenter, electrician, landscaper, painter, general contractor or others has been an exasperating and negative experience.

Customer Service

Examples of the service experience may include: “Due to the volume of requests, we are not taking any calls now.” “Please go to our website and submit a request.” “We are currently six months out, so please be patient.” “Leave a message and we will call you back as soon as possible.”

As a business owner, you should strive to preserve a “Customer Service” reputation across your company. And the initial contact provides a critical customer touch-point.

You may consider hiring an answering service or temporary employees to answer your phones. Live answering would be preferred, or consider a 24 or 48 hour call back commitment. Your phone number is a valued asset that needs to be safeguarded.

Script messages for your agents to politely advise customers of the current situation. Provide options, such as: “We can schedule you for a date in future or we can call you if someone cancels.” Your customers simply want to hear a voice and know that someone does care (even if they can’t help immediately).
Make sure all inquiries through your website get a response.

Your website and other social media presence communicates your reputation. Your virtual presence (and customer ratings) needs to be monitored and managed.
Be honest, be respectful. Empathize with customers who are obviously upset and in need of service. Propose options to mitigate their “pain” in the interim. Have them participate in the remediation – get measurements, take pictures, provide specific details or provide other information that may expedite your service delivery. If possible, create a mutual action plan to keep them engaged.

You may want to even solicit your customers’ help to recruit employees. For example, “We are looking for qualified employees, so please share our contact information.” Your customers can become part of the solution, while highlighting the fact that there is a supply challenge.

Narrow your scope of service. Choose what may be most impactful (and likely most profitable) and defer services that may be beneficial to perform in “slower” periods.

Update website and emails with service offering and perhaps pricing to help manage customers’ expectations.
The value of your business is built on the tangible quality of your work as well as the intangible quality of your customer service. Your brand strength is a key component of your company’s value.

Best wishes as you navigate your business through Irma and beyond.

Steven Niehaus Murphy Business & Financial Services

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