Under any normal circumstances, a stellar customer service experience is something most businesses strive for. Throw a global pandemic like COVID-19 into the mix, and suddenly, all sense of normalcy flies out the window. Pandemics and catastrophes aside, businesses that can provide exceptional service no matter what the circumstance are more likely to succeed against competitors. And from a customer’s perspective, I’m going to tell you why.
At some point during the Great (not so much) Lockdown of 2020, I decided to adopt a dog. Of course, I went bananas shopping for her online. Toys? Check. Treats? Check check. However, when I ordered a new collar that was too big, I had to contact the business’s customer service department to process the exchange. As this was my first time shopping from this particular retailer, I didn’t know what to expect. Would I be on hold until the pandemic ended? Should I get something to snack on while I wait?
Before I could make a decision, I was being greeted by a warm, bubbly voice. Doloris was both professional and friendly, and she transformed a standard, run-of-the-mill interaction into an enjoyable customer service experience that felt like a breath of fresh air. In the midst of processing the return, she asked me about my pup, and she told me about her four-legged friend. We talked about the current pandemic and how we were both holding up, which helped personalize our interaction. She wasn’t just some voice on the other end of the line - she was an actual human who was experiencing many of the same challenges I was facing, such as adjusting to working from home and not being able to find any toilet paper.
By the end of the call, a new collar was on its way to me. I was told to donate the original if I didn’t want to ship it back (so awesome!), and I was smiling and laughing as if I were speaking with an old friend. That’s what I’d call an amazing first impression.
After I hung up the phone, I felt like I needed to tell everyone about my great experience. As someone who has worked in the customer service industry for years, I know how important positive feedback is. And research shows that 91% of consumers are more likely to use a business that has positive reviews. So, I went to social media to tweet at the company, insisting that Doloris be given a raise immediately! Most importantly, my review wasn’t incentivized, meaning that the retailer didn’t ask for my opinion in exchange for cash or freebies, which is a definite online review snafu, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
Now, I am just one person whose opinion may not seem to influence much. But did you know that businesses with nine or more reviews posted within the last 90 days earn 52% more revenue than the average business? Every review really does count! And small businesses thrive off of a strong digital footprint.
There’s no question that online reviews impact sales. But even more personal and perhaps more valuable is word-of-mouth marketing. As any basic business model can tell you, an increase in referrals means an increase in prospective customers. In fact, referrals are so important that many companies often develop referral programs for existing customers who bring in new business. For example, a property manager might knock a few hundred bucks off a tenant’s rent whose referral resulted in a signed lease. Or a burgeoning hair salon might reward a referral with a discount to both the existing customer and the new customer.
According to Mark Zuckerberg, Founder and CEO of Facebook, trusted referrals are the Holy Grail of advertising. So, how does a business get customers to refer them to their friends and family? They provide a flawless customer service experience. And how do they do that? By offering these three things:
Times are tough right now for small businesses everywhere. If your small business needs an extra hand with customer communication, sign up for our 2-week free trial to see what SAS can do for you.
Publish Date: July 14, 2020 5:00 AM
First responders, the world salutes you! If you are on the frontlines of the COVID-19 battleground, there are all kinds of places that want to show their gratitude. We’ve put together a list of some of the freebies that you can get your sanitized, gloved hands on as a thank you for all that you do!
Publish Date: May 6, 2020 5:00 AM
If you have watched the news even once during the COVID-19 coverage, you’ve heard stories about how small businesses have been hard-hit by the disaster, many unsure if they will have a business to go back to after the smoke clears and the dust settles. As an answering service, we’ve seen clients with rapid increases in call volume, clients whose call volume nearly dropped off, and new clients who signed on during lockdown, realizing how much they needed a service to manage customer care after they had to downsize. We wanted to get an idea of the broad impact that the coronavirus has had over a variety of industries. So, we researched inbound usage for several existing clients, and we found some interesting results to share with you – some obvious, and others, not so obvious. Take a tour of call volume trends from January through April of 2020 – pre-pandemic, and at the height of the crisis.
With weddings and graduations being sidelined all across the country, it’s not at all surprising that event venues have seen a drop in call volume over the last few months. Not only are people postponing or cancelling events, but without a definitive date when social distancing measures will ease, people aren’t scheduling any new events, either. Event Venue A experienced a 50% downturn from February to March, and another 73% drop from March to April – nearly double Event Venue B, which saw decreases of 27% and 36%, respectively. According to Wedding Wire, the average wedding utilizes about 15 vendors, e.g., the facility, photographer, caterer, stylist, and more. And those vendors employ a group of people to perfect every detail. So, the venues aren’t the only ones losing out.
One might expect that if events are being cancelled, balloon and flower sales are also taking a dive. In the case of these two clients, one would be wrong. Luckily for flower shop owners, making the switch from storefront sales to online only enabled those originally non-essential businesses to remain open. And with no one actually able to celebrate birthdays and other major events in person, a bouquet of flowers, a bunch of balloons, and a drive-by party will have to do the trick. Balloons floated up by 33% from February to March and continued their streak into April. Flowers saw a 13% growth spurt from February to March, and another 37% upshoot from March to April. Whether for birthdays, graduations, Easter, Passover, or advanced orders for Mother’s Day, things are looking up for these retailers.
As we’ve come to appreciate, the companies that are dedicated to cleaning and sanitizing medical facilities and essential businesses are indispensable, and never more so than when a novel virus is carving its way through the population. A quick glance at the graph below shows that Commercial Cleaner A, based in New York – aka the hot spot of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States – has been inundated with calls, showing a 290% surge from February to March, with numbers continuing to rise another 32% in April. While Commercial Cleaner B’s usage is not as astronomical, they still had a 73% upswing from February to March in their California setting, before a nearly equal 71% downtrend from March to April, possibly the result of one-time March sanitization of the many establishments on lockdown.
There’s nothing like an epidemic to force a crash course in how to turn your business from brick-and-mortar to work-from-home, virtually overnight. The amazing thing about technology is that we live in a time when radically changing your business model is not only plausible but feasible. A sudden shift in protocol means that the not-so-tech savvy will need help getting everything together. It makes sense, then, that two of our Business and Residential IT Service clients saw a spike in calls from February to March, springing up 78% and 143%, respectively. But a company that specializes in commercial IT Sales fell off by 52% between February and March as businesses began to close their doors, and dove another 53% into April.
School’s out for the summer! And the restrictions imposed by the coronavirus have affected more than just educators and administrators. When you think of grade schools and universities, school safety personnel aren’t usually the first people who come to mind. Yet, especially in the days of Sandy Hook and Parkland, they are a vital part of a properly functioning institution. Unfortunately, school shootings aren’t the only incidents that claim lives on campus. According to the National Fire Protection Association, from 2011 to 2015, fire departments in the United States responded to around 4,100 structure fires in campus properties, 92 of which were fatal. As we can see, fire safety consultants for college campuses saw a 68% decline in call volume from February to March, which makes sense, given that hundreds of schools closed their doors. And as students hurriedly left their dorms, one campus’ emergency line had a 98% decline between March and April.
Though a few states have begun to reopen businesses previously deemed non-essential, the vast majority of areas remain buttoned up. Stylists may be able to create videos showing you how to trim your own hair, but there’s no revenue in a DIY video, unless you’re charging for it. So, salons and spas have definitely lost out on a wealth of business – not only on regular cut and color appointments, but also on updos for prom, which some students held virtually. Salon A, in North Carolina, stayed steady through March, as the state did not institute mandatory closures of personal care and grooming facilities until March 25th. Calls subsequently fell by 59% from March to April. Salon B, in Georgia, had a 69% slump in usage between February and March, when local governments shut businesses down – despite not having an official order from the governor until April.
Not catching COVID-19 is at the forefront of everyone’s mind, which is why social distancing campaigns are in place across the globe. But what happens to mental and emotional well-being when we’re all staying at home, missing out on personal connections with family, friends, and coworkers? A lot, as it turns out.
Depression, anxiety, substance use, domestic violence and child abuse can and likely will get worse during this crisis, as past disasters have taught us. And, as time rolls on, mental health counselors will have a crisis all their own, trying to help individuals and families recover from the mass chaos brought on by such a tiny virus. For two mental health counselors in New Jersey, we see inverse call volume. But why has one decreased while the other increased? Perhaps Counselor A is not offering telehealth appointments, which could explain the 50% decline between March and April. Or maybe, location plays a role. Counselor A is based in the lower part of New Jersey, closer to the Philadelphia area and less of a COVID-19 battleground than northern parts of the state. Counselor B, who has seen a 231% climb in inbound traffic from March to April, is based in upstate New Jersey, just outside of New York City – which has a higher COVID-19 mortality rate than anywhere else in the country. If that’s not a reason to need a counselor, then what is?
So, what do you do when you’re bored out of your mind working from home? If you have the means and the mode of transportation, you go on vacation, or you plan one so that you can decompress when this horror story is behind us. That’s what two stateside vacation resorts have seen in the past two months, despite the fact that the travel industry as a whole has taken a big hit. If you’re going to be forced to shelter in place, you may as well do that somewhere with sun and fun, rivers, tubing, beaches, water sports, and most of all, a respite from the cares of the world. Resorts A and B have both seen usage upticks, the most prominent being Resort A – with a 192% burst between March and April. Resort B trailed quite a bit but still did well, showing 71% more inbound traffic. Of note, international Resort C experienced a 66% fall in usage during the same time frame. If no one is flying, they’re not going to be booking international vacations, no matter how great the mojitos are.
They say that every dark cloud has a silver lining. And one of the most heart-warming silver linings of the ominous coronavirus cloud is that pet fostering and pet adoption rates have increased. Why? Because all you need is love! 4-legged, fur babies to bring a smile to your face and ease your pain while you ease theirs. For the first time in years, many shelters are empty, and more dogs and cats in happy homes means more vet visits. We looked at four veterinary practices, and all four showed increased call volume. Vet A had a 139% swell from March to April. Vet B’s calls increased in March, going up by 76% from their February usage. Vets C and D both increased February through April. There’s nothing like taking a disaster and turning it into a reason to spread joy. It’s a beautiful thing!
The food and beverage industry has seen all sorts of changes in the past two months that no one saw coming. If you’ve tried to get into the grocery store during senior hours, purchased hand sanitizer made by a distillery, or enjoyed curbside service from your favorite dine-in only restaurant, then you’ve seen the adaptability of businesses in your area, necessitated by the “new normal.” What we found particularly curious are two industries that have seen unexpected peaks and valleys, even in these crazy times.
The first, online alcohol sales. Bars are closed. Liquor stores are closed (but some now offering pickup). So, where do you go when you want a glass of chardonnay and your wine rack is bare? Storm your neighbor’s kitchen and trade a roll of toilet paper for a bottle of the good stuff? Nope. You have it shipped right to your door. For our online alcohol retailer, this manifested into a 55% increase from February to March followed by a 77% push from March to April.
Unfortunately, dairy suppliers have had less luck than their spirited colleagues. Regardless of the empty supermarket shelves at the onset of the pandemic, or the continued need for milk, butter and cheese, dairy farmers have been asked to dump milk because of a crippled supply chain. If you can’t guarantee freshness due to delays in delivery, then you can’t sell the product. That explains the 42% loss for our dairy client between February and March followed by a 14% decline from March to April.
Of the industries we researched, we found a fascinating correlation between a few companies that are decidedly linked, though it’s not something that we would normally make the super short leap to connect. That’s why research is so cool! Let’s look at 1) the online alcohol retailer, 2) an alcohol level monitoring company, 3) a driving hotline, and 4) collision repair.
As we recall from our last segment, with bars and liquor stores closed, online alcohol sales have gained. And with people no longer having to leave their homes to imbibe, there are fewer drunk drivers on the roadways. The graph below shows an inverse relationship between the amount of online alcohol sales, a 77% rise from March to April, and the amount of calls received by a company that monitors breathalyzers installed in vehicles to prevent driving while intoxicated, a 10% fall during the same time frame. While the number of alcohol monitoring calls has not decreased by much for our client, we are grateful for any reduction in drunk driving. This story is echoed in cities across the country, with reduced DUIs between March and April.
Fewer drunk drivers on the road, in addition to the millions who are staying put with everything on lockdown, means fewer calls to driving and traffic incident hotlines – an 18% dip from February to March, and another drop by 44% from March to April. And, if the highways are less congested and people are paying more attention to the road instead of, well, just about anything else, there are less accidents, and thereby, less of a need for collision services. An 11% downshift for our auto body repair client between February and March, and another 12% fall in April.
Viruses don’t care who you are, where you live, or how successful you’ve become. They don’t wait for your finances to be in perfect shape so that you’ll be able to weather the storm when they strike. And they don’t ask what type of business you run, or how much their existence will interfere with your and your staff’s livelihood. There is no denying the massive impact that the coronavirus has had on our society and the world. But, with a little ingenuity, your small business can and will bounce back from this.
Publish Date: May 5, 2020 5:00 AM
Owning a business is an expensive endeavor. When it comes to making the business run smoothly, there are so many factors to take into consideration that it can all get incredibly overwhelming, especially for those just starting out. From manufacturing and distribution costs to rental space to computers, phones and Internet, the bills just keep adding up.
Savvy business owners are always looking for ways to minimize their expenditures while still getting the most out of their investments. And, one of the handiest tools a business can have in its toolbox is an answering service. Live answering services offer a ton of benefits at a fantastic value, all without sacrificing the services or quality you need to make your small business successful. In the unforeseen economic downturn brought on by COVID-19, it’s more important than ever to manage your budget wisely and stabilize inbound revenue. Here’s how an answering service can help.
As of March 2020, the salary for a receptionist can range anywhere between $30,000 and $40,000 per year. But the true cost of an employee is much greater than salary alone. Medical and dental insurance, 401(k), paid time-off, pension, social security, disability, etc. all add up, significantly raising your baseline expenses. If you are among the many who have had to temporarily down-staff or let people go entirely, you’ll need to think about how to manage the workload with less workers.
With wages and employee benefits no longer debiting your account, you’ll be able to devote a portion of that savings towards a professional virtual receptionist. Utilizing an answering service will allow you to keep costs at a minimum while ensuring that every customer receives the assistance they need. Depending on the amount of call volume your business receives, you may be able to pay as little as $1/day to have your calls answered by not one or two, but a whole office of agents.
If you are one of the lucky business owners who was able to retain your staff during the course of this pandemic, then you may have been able to do so only by cutting employees’ hours. Even if you still have coverage 40 hours a week, what happens during the other 128 hours when calls are still coming in?
If your back up plan is to send calls to voicemail like many small businesses, then you’re kissing valuable leads goodbye. Did you know that 8 out of 10 callers will hang up if they reach voicemail? That means 80% of business opportunities are passing you by and going right into the sales funnel of your competitors. 24-hour answering services don’t ever clock out. They are available anytime you need them, whether it’s at 2 AM on a holiday weekend or smack dab in the middle of your work day - pandemic or no pandemic.
Once the COVID-climate clears, you may come to the conclusion that rehiring former workers will not be feasible for some time. It’s also possible that the people you would like to rehire were forced to find alternative avenues of employment to maintain their quality of life. Normally, there is a lot of time, money, and investment put into finding the right employee. On average, it takes about 42 days to select a candidate to hire and fill the position.
All things considered, there’s a lot that goes into recruitment, including taking into account that the newbie may not work out. Should that occur, which so often does, the process then restarts and the investments must be made again. Outsourcing to an answering service eliminates recruiting, hiring and training new employees. Answering service agents are already trained and ready to field calls on your business’s behalf. What’s more, they are fully set up with all the hardware and software necessary to do the job.
So much goes into making your phone ring and obtaining leads: thousands spent on SEO and advertisements, hours spent on cold calling or door-to-door outreach. As a small business owner, you give everything you can to cultivate success for your company. Then, imagine living through a global pandemic and watching all that hard work fall by the wayside. Well, you can skip the imagination part - the novel coronavirus fallout is everyone’s new normal. And having an answering service in place will ensure that your considerable efforts are not lost.
Since most callers prefer to speak to a live person, giving them a consistent point of contact during these uncertain times offers an edge over your competition. The more calls your virtual support staff answers, the more opportunities there are for growth and ROI maximization.
Owning and operating a business warrants an abundance of expenses, not all of which are monetary. There’s a huge expenditure of blood, sweat, and tears, as they say. Over time, the resulting stress and fatigue can lead to serious health problems. And that’s under normal circumstances. Add COVID-19 into the mix, and you’re looking at a flood of physical and mental distress that must not be ignored. With an answering service there to unburden you, you’ll be in a better position to balance work and leisure without skipping a beat.
Yes, work is how you can afford to live. But if there is anything that the coronavirus has taught us, it’s that living to work pales in comparison to the importance of spending precious moments with family and friends, and taking time to foster your own physical, emotional, and mental well-being. An answering service is a reliable shoulder to lean on, whenever you need one.
No matter what kind of business you run, expenses are never-ending. As we all adjust to the current economic climate, we need to be mindful of how much is going out even more than on how much is coming back in. Partnering with an answering service is a worthwhile investment that will offer efficient and professional services, whether you sign up for a free trial just to help you hurdle the pandemic, or you reap the benefits well into your COVID-free future.
Publish Date: April 28, 2020 5:00 AM