Open for Business?

Open for Business?


  • 62% of consumers stop doing business with a company after poor customer service
  • Just 56% of Irish businesses frequently measure customer feedback about their services
  • 77% of consumers admit they now retract their loyalty more quickly than they did three years ago
  • 92% of Irish shoppers find web chat experiences helpful

By embracing new technologies and cost-effective tools, digitally savvy SMEs can offer 24/7 customer support.

Consumers increasingly expect 24/7 customer support from the businesses they interact with, but with limited staffing and resources, this can be a challenge for SMEs and start-ups.

Good customer service is vital to the success of any business. In a recent global survey by Microsoft, 97% of consumers said that customer service was somewhat or very important when choosing a brand. In addition, 62% reported that they chose to stop doing business with a company after poor customer service.

However, almost half of businesses in Ireland fail to use customer feedback to make changes to their business practices, as found in a survey conducted in March by Aer Lingus as part of its new TakeOff campaign to help Irish SMEs.

The survey shows that while 95% of businesses believe customer experience is a key indicator of how successful a business is, just 56% of businesses frequently measure customer feedback about their services, and 14% rarely measures customer attitudes.

Businesses have a lot to lose by failing to listen to customer concerns.

Nearly half of consumers dump their online cart if they can’t find a quick answer to their questions, and customers are increasingly looking elsewhere for the product or service they need when customer service fails to impress.


Good customer service must be at the heart of any business, regardless of size”

 Michelle McLoughlin, head of consumer insights, Aer Lingus
A 2017 survey by Accenture revealed that 69% of consumers in Ireland switched providers due to poor customer service. The same survey found that 77% of all consumers now retract their loyalty more quickly than they did three years ago.

“Good customer service must be at the heart of any business, regardless of size,” says Michelle McLoughlin, head of consumer insights at Aer Lingus. “If your customers aren’t satisfied, your business cannot succeed. It’s that simple.”

“To remain competitive, SMEs need to ensure they offer prompt customer support,” says freelance digital-communications strategist Krishna De. “With the increase of online communications with businesses, more and more customers are looking for support outside traditional office hours.”

While larger corporations are able to offer out-of-hours or even 24/7 customer service with relative ease, providing this service can be expensive and impractical for start-ups and SMEs. “There are, however, a number of tools that small businesses can use to help manage customer enquiries,” says De.

For example, businesses can set up ‘instant replies’ or ‘away messages’ on their Facebook page that are sent automatically as an initial response to enquiries. Similarly, tools on Twitter enable businesses to show their account is open for customer support and indicate the hours they are available to provide assistance via the platform.

Customer support tools

Out-of-hours chatbots

Chatbots, a type of software that simulates human conversation, are becoming increasingly popular among business owners. Because they can be programmed to respond to common queries and customised to the particular needs of a business, they offer a cost-effective way to engage with website users.

Introducing a live chat function on websites not only frees up time otherwise spent responding to queries but also allows businesses to capture out-of-hours visitors, and offer the same 24/7 service as their larger competitors.

Four in 10 Irish shoppers have interacted with customer service agents on a website via web chat when shopping online, and 92% of them found it to be a helpful part of the shopping experience, according to Virgin Media’s 2016 Digital Insights Report.

The report adds that these findings reflect the growing familiarity and comfort of Irish consumers with interactive social media and messaging tools such as WhatsApp and Twitter.

With the share of Irish websites in online sales remaining static and online spending by Irish consumers set to almost double by 2021, digitally savvy Irish SMEs and start-ups have a unique opportunity to capture their share of the fastest-growing sector in the economy.

Virtual assistance

As customers increasingly seek personal experiences, other SMEs are turning to virtual office services to offer out-of-hours support. A team of external personal assistants uses a script – devised in collaboration with the company doing the outsourcing – to deal with common customer questions, while in-house staff can be quickly alerted about more complex queries.

Victoria Casebourne runs More To Business, which helps working mothers manage and enjoy their career. She first used a virtual assistant service six months ago. “We felt we needed a company that could pick up our phone and answer website messages consistently,” she explains. “Now we can relax, knowing our communications are answered at all times of the day.”

Using live chat agents or virtual assistants demands careful planning, however. “It’s important to provide training, preferably in person initially, so that your virtual assistant can essentially be you in your absence,” says Hazel Theocharous, a business consultant who specialises in advising SMEs. “If you have live chat on your website and it’s not live all the time, make sure you check your emails at least twice daily to respond to questions or potential leads.”

Outsourced customer support

Businesses can always outsource customer service expertise through agencies such as Call Management Ireland, which offers receptionist services, email handling, out-of-hours and overflow management, social media customer support, and holiday cover to small businesses on a limited budget. The company also offers mobile response management and multichannel customer service, integrating customer contact management across the phone, web, email, SMS and social media.

According to Call Management, SMS text is a great way to interact with customers, with 97% of text messages read within five seconds and 32% of consumers responding to SMS messages.

However, this will not always be an option for small businesses.

Planning ahead

Not all small business owners choose to (or can afford to) outsource their out-of-hours customer service needs – sometimes, clever shift planning is all that’s required. By organising even a small team of employees on a weekly rotation system, it’s possible to ensure somebody is always available to offer assistance.

Aadil Seedat, co-founder and senior manager of web-hosting company Umbrella Host, encourages businesses to think about providing these services in-house. “It can be cheaper and more helpful for customers,” he explains. “Most of the software is cheap and easy to run, so the only thing required is your time.”

Customer expectations are rising, and the number of tools available to help SMEs meet them are becoming more plentiful. As long as SMEs pay close attention to their systems and processes, collect ample customer feedback and stay agile to changing needs, there’s never been a better time to let technology take your business 24/7 – whatever its size.



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