These findings are the result of research, carried out among SMEs across four key European economies; Spain, Germany, Italy and the UK, shows that more than three quarters of European small businesses and say that providing a fast response to customer queries was the biggest source of competitive advantage.
One third of small firms blame their inability to respond quickly enough to customer enquiries for the loss of contracts to more nimble competitors and half of firms – who took part in the research – said that operating in a 24 hour society, where customers expected an instant response to enquiries made across many different channels, was the biggest pressure facing their business.
The findings come as SMEs get to grips with the demands of a new generation of customers keen to see the immediacy of their internet shopping experience reflected in their business dealings. Potential customers are quick to move on to the next provider if they do not get an instant response.
Nearly eight out of ten SME managers now expect their employees to respond to customer phone calls immediately during office hours no matter where they are.
The increasingly mainstream use of social media has also impacted on customer expectations with just under a third of European small businesses expecting staff to respond immediately to customer requests made on social media such as Twitter during office hours.
Tom Craig, Vodafone Business Services Director, who commissioned the research, said that despite challenging market conditions, SMEs were determined to grow: “Small businesses are focusing on converting every lead into a sale and those firms that respond the quickest have the upper hand. As more companies operate mobile workforces to save on office costs, managed communications systems that can instantly route unanswered calls to mobile phones across a dispersed workforce are becoming increasingly important.”