StinksB.C. (Before Computers) business owners sent letters, called on the phone or went to visit a customer in person. There were really only these three ways to “talk”. As a result, business communication was much simpler. Now customers can contact a business through chat, social media, email, voice mail, and fax. With a smart phone in every customer’s hand, there are so many ways to communicate at any time of day or night. What makes it even more difficult is that customers expect an answer immediately! The timeliness of a small business’ customer conversation has a big impact on their reputation and therefore sales.  

Most small businesses stink at communicating with customers. They don’t have a unified plan to monitor all the communication channels and don’t get back to customers in a timely fashion by the same team of people.

Here are specific guidelines to improve communication:

Email should be replied to within the same day. There should be an immediate auto responder on the single email address that customers most use that sets the expectation when someone will get back to the person. A customer service rep needs to then reply within the specified time.

Only offer chat from the website if it can be staffed for an extended period of time. Review website traffic and find out when a majority of users visit. Be careful when outsourcing this function since that company may not have enough information to really help the customer. Do not offer mobile phone chat unless this is the targeted customers’ favorite form of communication. (Typically under 25 years old)

Monitor what customers are saying about the company on the Internet. Use a free service like Google Alerts or other paid services to track when your company is mentioned. Then get involved in these conversations when they are positive and negative.

When the customer calls, have a live person nearby. Depending on the volume of calls, it may not be practical to have every caller be answered live. However, automated answer trees should be limited and only have one level.

Finally, whoever “catches” the first communication message from the customer should track it through to completion. The biggest complaint that most people have when they call a company is they get passed off to someone else and have to explain their issue all over again.


Barry Moltz gets small businesses unstuck. He is a business speaker, author and consultant. Barry can be found at