Major corporate brands have 24/7 help lines, direct website chats and even teams of social media experts scouring sites such as Twitter to make sure they’re accessible to their customers and clients at all times.
While startups don’t have the staff to compete with these rapid-response machines, entrepreneurs need to be just as accessible in order to provide the same levels of service.
Entrepreneurs are actually capable of providing personalized experiences to customers beyond what any corporation can do. Bank of America may have an empathetic Twitter account, but you will never see CEO Brian Moynihan talking directly to customers. Smart entrepreneurs, though, can make time to focus on customers and build those relationships.
The hard part is balancing time spent with customers and time spent working. With 31 percent of entrepreneurs working at least 10 hours a day (and 15 percent working seven days a week), how do you, as an entrepreneur, find time to stay in touch with your customers?
1. Your schedule can never be too organized.
You have to be accessible but with limits to avoid having your time usurped. This is why I run my day with my Microsoft Outlook calendar. Outlook (along with Mozilla’s Thunderbird and other competitors) allows users to create blackout times and dates to ensure meetings aren’t scheduled during certain time frames.
Recently, when I was asked to fly with a senior sales executive to visit a customer, I was able to move my existing appointments and make the trip on short notice. All affected appointments were automatically notified with a reason for the change, which simplified everything. This gives you -- and anyone wanting to schedule time with you -- an overview of your real-time availability. Unless there’s an emergency, stick to your schedule to use your time most efficiently.
2. Utilize technology to make your phone your office.
These days, phones, tablets and laptops are capable of running most productivity and communication apps. Cloud-based DMS solutions such as eFileCabinet or docSTAR make transferring data between devices simple and keep you productive even on the go. Quickly accessing needed documents using our mobile app helps me stay on top of things when I’m on the road.
I use my phone as a virtual office because there’s always downtime while running errands. I’ve checked emails and sent documents while preparing meals, cooling off after a workout and even standing in line for a ride at Disneyland. Never underestimate the power of mobile computing to get things done.
3. Find talented gatekeepers (virtual or otherwise).
If I had to name one secret to success, it is managing the workload by hiring talented people. Entrepreneurs wear many hats, but there’s no way one person can do everything. A team will always outperform a single person.
When my team recently met with a large potential client, everyone attended -- except me. I’m confident the people I hired know how to weave successful win-win strategies with prospects, so I stayed behind, assured they had it under control.
Remember that employees are customers, too. Being accessible to them helps create an autonomous workforce that can accomplish your company’s goals without your constant guidance and supervision.
4. Hire a right-hand man or woman.
Despite all of these tools, I’d be lost without my capable and talented executive assistant. She keeps me organized and takes care of a lot of the details, acting as the administrator of my time. This helps me focus on issues that most need my attention.
Not every entrepreneur can justify the expense of hiring an executive assistant, but virtual assistant services vet freelancers who work remotely and can be every bit as efficient as an on-site executive assistant.
As an entrepreneur, you’ll struggle to take control of your time. There will always be something that needs your attention. Using technology to stay organized, and bringing professionals on board to fill gaps, frees you to focus on the most important factor in any business -- customers.