Responsiveness is key for small businesses


Customers often choose local small businesses for their quality of product and/or service, even if the monetary cost is higher. As a small business, if you lack responsiveness to customers, it almost feels like a breach in the unwritten rules of the relationship. Ultimately, you run a high chance of missing out on that customer's business. As a small business, you are not afforded the luxury of missing out on customers.

In this article:

  • Why does responsiveness matter? Go
  • Customer experience considerations Go
  • Make sure your whole team understands the
    support expectations Go
  • How fast is fast enough? Go

Why does responsiveness matter?

Listed below are a few topics for why you might care about this as a business owner. In short, it is wildly worth your time to figure out how to be in a position to quickly respond to customers in whatever way they reach out to you.

Customer expectations

More and more, people are expecting instant gratification. Current technology has conditioned us for this and many businesses have pulled off the ability to near-instantly reply to customers. There's some amount of delay we still expect as consumers when contacting a business, but the allowances are very different between large companies and small local ones. We have all been on hold with our insurance company. We know how that feels and we know we are at the mercy of their support setup to get what we need.

When it comes to reaching out to small businesses, we know that we have a decent chance of sending messages directly to the owner (since they often do everything for a business). Regardless if we are contacting them directly or not, we know that they should care very deeply about customer interactions. We either subconsciously or consciously expect a quality response sooner than later. Again, we choose local small businesses often because of their ability to provide better and more meaningful service. If that isn't delivered from the start, we feel like we are already in the hole, so to speak.

Customers don't know how busy you are or aren't. They care to an extent, but really they are concerned with their own needs more than anything, which is not a wrong stance to have. They value their own time and definitely notice when theirs is wasted, which can happen when you take too long to respond to them. They will move on without much thought and worse yet, will share their disdain with others.

Differentiation from bigger businesses

Larger businesses that work on economies of scale to provide lower costs and more variety of products and services have fundamentally different motivations and consequences. They certainly have their place in our economy, but so do small businesses. Small business owners are constantly challenged with proving to customers “here's why you should choose us,” despite having limited or no marketing budget. Their actions have to speak for them in a lot of cases. Every customer is important to a small business, which means every customer interaction is also of highest importance.

Builds trust and loyalty

The concept in this article of timely communication with customers is a simple one, but doesn't mean it is any less profound. By effectively communicating with customers, and specifically doing that quickly after they reach out, the (potential) customer has a higher chance of doing business with you the first time, but then again as they may need again in the future. It's kind of like the “first impressions last” line of thinking.

Getting to the point where someone reaches out to your business is already a monumental task. So when they do, congrats! That isn't the end of the story, though, it's the beginning. Make the most of the opportunity ahead of you by being very responsive and delivering a great customer experience.

Customer experience considerations

There's a culmination of events that come together to produce a customer's overall experience. One of the most critical interactions is the initial one. Maybe a customer has a question or already wants to book an appointment and just needs to get on the schedule. In any case, the quicker you are to respond to their needs, the more likely there is to be a positive experience for the customer. A couple considerations:

Improved customer satisfaction

As we wrote in another article, How to use text messaging to surprise and delight your customers, you should aim to surprise and delight your customers at every chance. Customers can assume that you're busy operating the business and will allow some time for you to reply to an email or call them back, but if you respond right away, they will consider this a pleasant experience from the timing alone. Conversely, if it takes too long, they're not happy at all. Every customer has their own unknown threshold for this, so your best bet is to be as responsive as you can!

Higher likelihood of positive reviews

Small businesses thrive on positive reviews and word of mouth. The better you can make a customer's experience, the more likely they are to consider writing a positive review or recommending your business.

You may end up not doing business with someone because of natural reasons, like it just wasn't the service the customer needed. You can still leave an impression on these people where they may speak positively on your business because from the one interaction they had with you, you responded quickly to them and that's pretty much the information they have to go on when passing judgment along to anyone else.

Have you ever encountered an issue with a business? I'm sure you have. When bringing the issue to the business, was it addressed quickly? Depending on your answer, the response and timing may have a higher impact on your overall satisfaction than the original issue! Despite having the issue in the first place, you can leave a strong positive impression by being quick to respond and resolve it for the customer. The customer sometimes ends up happier from the resolution than they would have been if there was never even an issue.

Make sure your whole team understands the support expectations

As a business owner with the most vested interest, you likely already consider customer service as paramount. The question to ask yourself, though, is have you communicated that to your employees? If yes, have you set clear expectations for where and how to check for customer communication?

In today's world, there's probably many different ways your customers reach you. If you publish an email address, a phone number, and have a Facebook page (the list goes on), are you staying on top of all of them? You need to, otherwise you might consider funneling all customer interactions to the source(s) you'll actually check.

Don't publish a way to reach out to you if you don't have it as first-class support. An email to an unmonitored inbox is much worse than not publishing an email address at all and instead only having a phone number. At least customers will not be waiting for a response they will never get. Also make sure your team knows who is accountable for what and what the expectations are for responding to customers.

How fast is fast enough?

Take a look at the excerpt below from Forbes article Today's Customer has a Need for Speed.

"Right now is not really right now - As customers' expectations and their need for speed increase, the concept of “right now” can seem daunting. According to Baer, the concept of “right now” is the optimal amount of elapsed time in every customer interaction throughout the entire customer journey. If that sounds technical, here's a simpler way of putting it: “Right now” is simply slightly faster than the customer expected."

Since every customer is different and it isn't known at that time, your best bet is to respond as quickly as feasible on your end and hope that it beats the customer expectation. It may be impractical for your business to be immediately responding to everyone, so if that's the case, don't feel like you're automatically going to fail. There is some amount of wiggle room for each customer.

Another important segment from that article:

"Speed is the most important component of customer experience and the only one that never pauses or goes backward - Calling it the most important component of the customer experience is bold, but consider a key finding from the report: 50% of customers are less likely to spend money with a business that takes longer to respond than they expect."

So we don't know the amount of time we have to impress a customer with our response timeliness, but we do know that it is absolutely important to meet or beat that expectation.

Another thing to keep in mind is normal business hours. As a general expectation, people who email you at midnight wouldn't expect a response within a few minutes like they may otherwise be looking for at 10AM. There is email tooling you can use to auto-respond in those cases (and more for other communication methods), which can help improve the customer experience during off-hours. The “clock” for response time generally only applies to daytime hours. That said, depending on how many time zones your business covers, this can still be quite a large portion of the hours in a day.


All of the points in this article back up the claim that being responsive to customers is highly beneficial for small businesses (and really any business - but crucial for small businesses to capture as much revenue as possible, since it is often fleeting). It doesn't replace the rest of the needs a business has to provide to give a great customer experience and produce repeat buyers, but it is one actionable way to improve your business outcomes. It often just comes down to understanding the importance and prioritizing the ability to respond quickly.