One fast and easy way to increase sales and improve customer service is to expand your business hours. Since hiring new staff is expensive, consider extending your hours of operation by staggering office hours and hiring virtual workers based in different time zones.
Flexible scheduling offers several benefits: current employees may welcome the opportunity to work a shift that better fits their lifestyle, while you benefit from more coverage. Your challenge is keeping the lines of communication open, especially if staffers are forwarding sales and customer data from one shift to the next.
Extending your hours of operation isn’t difficult to do, but it takes some thought and planning.
Here’s how to get started:
First, review and track the busiest times of the day based on call volume, emails received and/or new orders placed. If you ship orders at the end of every day, or need to do anything else on a schedule, figure out how many people you need to handle those tasks.
Before you expand the workday schedule, be sure to dig into your customer data base to figure out where your customers are located. It’s easy to do this based on zip codes. (Most of The Applegate Group’s clients are on the East Coast, but perhaps you serve Midwest clients from an office in Florida or California).
Next, update your customer and client database. Find an online address verification tool to assist you, such as www.pb.com/addressrightnow/. Sending mail to a bad address is expensive and a waste of time. Remember, you can take advantage of significant postage discounts if all your addresses are up-to-date and your promotional pieces are zip code-sorted. (By the way, you can also save time and a trip to the post office by using online postage stamps that you can print off yourself.)
In addition to promoting your new expanded hours, be sure to ask your customers what more you can do to improve service? You can send a short survey via email (using www.surveymonkey.com or www.zoomerang.com for example), but why not send a direct mail piece?
If you want to cut through all the email clutter, send a perforated bounce-back card. The recipient keeps the top half of the card with all your company contact information then sends back the bottom half with prepaid postage.
Based on your internal research and the bounce-back survey results, it’s time to ask your team who wants to flex their hours. First, ask if anyone is interested in covering an early shift, perhaps from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Early bird shifts often appeal to the parents of pre-school or school-age kids.
Next, ask if anyone who likes to exercise or putter around the house in the morning would be interested in working from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. or noon to 8 p.m.
Not everyone will be up for a schedule change, but that’s okay. A traditional 9-to-5 work schedule ensures that most of your in-house staff is in the office during the bulk of the work day.
If it’s necessary to hand off projects from shift to shift or several people need to be involved in processing an order, set up clear communication channels. Your mission is to make sure more than one employee can access the information needed to track an order and keep customers happy.
When the weekly or monthly schedule is ready, post it in Excel or another spreadsheet program. Change is challenging so be sure everyone knows exactly who is on duty and when.
If you decide to rely on virtual workers to extend your hours of operation, be sure they are fully trained (use Skype or www.GoToMeeting.com) and have access to all the information they need to deal with customers. No one calling should know whether they are in Utah not Utica. There are thousands of great people looking to work from home, so post jobs online or work with a virtual talent agency such as www.Elance.com.
Finally, create a customized email and/or a direct mail piece to promote your new, expanded hours. Outline the benefits and emphasize that you have expanded your hours to better serve customers and clients. Offer a discount, gift with purchase or some other incentive to encourage people to contact your company.
Extending your business hours not only provides better customer service, but can quickly boost morale by giving your employees extra time off with their families, more time for recreation or exercise, etc.
Is a direct mail campaign part of your communications plan? pbSmartMarketer can help. Find out more here.
Jane Applegate is an expert on small business marketing. She is the author of 201 Great Ideas for Your Small Business and can be followed at http://201greatideas.com/. Jane is not a Pitney Bowes employee and shares her insights on this blog as a paid contributor.