The New York Times had an article yesterday about building a free (or almost free) phone system for your business. While the solution it advocates might or might not be relevant to your small and medium business -- I'll examine more about phone systems in another blog -- the suggestion of using the company's Web site to publish e-mail/IM/phone contacts struck a chord within me.
Of course, part of the reason has to do with recent research showing that SMBs are not taking to the Web. Assuming that this is not the case with your organization, my next question would be: Just how easy is it for a potential customer to find a number to call, or to write-in to a manned e-mail account?
You will know what I mean if you have ever searched in vain through a corporate Web site for contact numbers. While it seems that the bigger companies are the ones who tend to be guilty of this, it would do well for SMBs not to fall into the same trap. This is especially pertinent as enterprises, which might offer unique services, are less likely to lose customers due to poor or obfuscated contact details. On the other hand, it would be far more likely that potential customers will just opt to skip your SMB in favour of other more accessible competitors.
So what is the minimum contact information you should have?
There is no hard-and-fast rule for this, though I would peg it at a minimum of a monitored e-mail account as well as a contact number, preferably with a voice mail system that is activated after office hours. Indeed, some organizations go as far as to publish their IM contacts or the direct extension for staffers.
Once the minimum standards are in place, a team should be tasked with responding to any e-mail or phone queries. To maintain standards, the KPI for this team should be directly tied to its response time -- no more than one business day to respond to e-mails or voice mails.
I will talk more about alternative phone systems in my next post.