Jul 22, 2019

The need to be able to react quickly in business

Paul Clapham examines the need to be able to react quickly in business

There used to be a hippy phrase, ‘speed kills’ related to LSD. There should now be a phrase ‘lack of speed kills’ and it relates to pounds and pence. Increasingly, the customer expects rapid or, indeed, very rapid response. If you are considered slow, you are dead in the water.

There was a marketing theory called the GFC triangle; GFC stands for good, fast and cheap and the theory says that if you do two you don’t need the third. I suspect that theory is dead, because everybody now expects ‘fast’ to be part of a business’s promise.

When people, both buyers and sellers, talk about good customer service they typically talk about soft skills such as friendliness, good communication and accuracy. In reality what really floats that boat is speed. I am convinced that the reason for this is that we can measure speed, whereas those other virtues are nebulous.

McDonald’s is the company most associated with ‘fast’ as in ‘fast food’. When a few years back the company’s management declared their service model broken that judgement was based purely on speed. Accuracy, friendliness, quality of food and politeness didn’t get a look-in.

Consider also JD Wetherspoon’s, the highly successful UK pub chain. It is effectively the McDonald’s of beer. You don’t drink there so that you can chat with the bar staff, because, I’m told, that is actually gently discouraged. Their staff are in the business of selling as much beer and food as they can in a shift, sod friendliness, and they know it.

How this plays with sports retailers covers a number of angles. Have you ever waited frustrated for a prospective supplier to return your initial enquiry? Can you put your hand on your heart and swear that it never happened the other way round? Sad to say, I can’t.

Speed of reaction may not strike everyone as a retail virtue. You’ve either got the product the customer wants, or you haven’t, no? It’s not so simple. The customer can have an equivalent product right now or you can order in what he or she wants. The latter feels so slow you’ll never sell it. Maybe not. I can’t ever remember buying a sports product and using it seriously within a couple of days.

Can you make fast into the standard service with a discount for customers who choose slow? There is a clear danger which I recognise, that clients will demand the fast service at the slow price, but other business sectors have managed to make two tier pricing work, so why not sports goods? So how long will people wait for a reply? This information comes from research done in America four years ago. It was a proper survey covering 1,000 people, ie the number used by electoral pollsters in the UK.

64 per cent of people using Twitter expect a response within one hour; 85 per cent of people using Facebook expect a response within six hours. 77 per cent of people would go elsewhere if they didn’t get an email reply, also within six hours.

I think that social media is an excellent publicity route especially because it is free. It is also important because it is a conversation and, thirdly, because it works. But from the above it is clear that the customers it brings are demanding. Some might argue that customers ready to spend hard cash are entitled to be demanding.

Note that people did have a clear idea of their expectation of a business’s speed of response. Nor was it entirely unreasonable (apart, perhaps, from some of the Twitterati).

Do you have a clear plan of how you respond to a new enquiry? I recommend that you should do. There is nothing wrong with having a structured response along the lines of ‘can I take you through some simple house-keeping’, ie name, phone numbers and email.

You can and should say that taking those details is part of achieving the fastest possible response – which is true because your processes will be more efficient and thereby faster.

Harvard Business Review published a study of 1.25 million sales leads generated by dozens of American companies via social media. (They were obviously big companies, given that number). Those which had a policy of making first contact with a prospective new customer inside one hour were six times likelier to get a sales appointment than those who made contact an hour later and a massive 60 times likelier than those who waited 24 hours.

Even though, along with most others, I hold the Harvard Business Review in very high esteem, I find those figures rather surprising. But assuming them to be right, they are screaming “jump on that lead, right now”.

Finally, I would add that I find it deeply disappointing that we never seem to produce this sort of research here in Britain; it always comes from America. One way for British business to be taken more seriously (especially after Brexit) would be to produce our own convincing research.


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