Ways to ‘Flex’ Your Company’s Business Hours
If your small business keeps traditional business hours, it might be time to rethink your approach. Customers — particularly younger Millennial clients — increasingly expect to be able to engage with you on their schedule.
“For that, you can thank the Internet and the proliferation of the ‘always-on economy,’” says Andy Birol, who coaches private and family businesses through Birol Growth Consulting.
What this means for you: If your small business is going to hold its own or grow, you may need to tweak your work schedule, says Birol. For instance, plumbers might want to offer no-extra-fee weekend or evening appointments. Accountants might offer video conferences with clients during what used to be considered “off hours.”
In addition, you might be wise to extend your hours during peak season or summer. According to Google research, one in four businesses offer longer hours during the summer months, when the days feel longer and clients may have more time available for appointments and shopping.
Some things to consider when shifting your business’ hours:
Listen to Prospects, Customers and Competitors
Do you regularly receive messages from potential clients when you’re typically closed? This is a prime sign that it might be time to update your schedule, according to Birol. Consider asking current clients if a schedule change would make a difference to them, and what extra hours would be most helpful. Also pay attention to your competition: If they’re extending their hours, you may need to follow suit, pronto, or risk losing customers, says Birol.
Depending on the nature of your business, you might not always need a staffer to be physically present in your office during extended hours. A small legal office could have a professional available by phone in the evenings or on weekends, for instance. Making yourself email-accessible during nontraditional hours might even be enough for some clients, suggests Birol. For higher-touch businesses, learn to use videoconferencing, screen sharing and other tools.
Try a “Respond Now, Work Later” Approach
Some clients want to be able to get general information or report problems to a live person beyond 9-to-5 hours. However, they may be satisfied having the actual follow-up work occur during the traditional workday, notes Birol. “It’s often enough to reassure the customer that you understand their need and that you’re on it, and then say, ‘I need to do some research on that (or get you a quote), and I’ll get back to you within 24 hours,’” Birol says.
Stagger Staff Schedules
“Even if you don’t want to work evenings or weekends, remember that your younger employees, in particular, may prefer it. Many of them like having the flexibility of nontraditional work hours,” says Birol. If they can work remotely on weekends or evenings, all the better. That’s easy enough to do by forwarding your office phone and either loaning employees laptops or allowing them to connect to work servers from home. This approach may require tightening your company’s computer security rules or establishing a virtual private network (VPN) to help prevent security breaches, as suggested by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
Market Your Hourly Change
If a nontraditional schedule like “weekend appointments” is a competitive advantage in your business, prominently note it on your website, in social media, on your phone message and email signature line. Customers who are comparing companies online may choose you based on just that feature, says Birol.
Evaluate Your Changes
Once you make a schedule shift, be sure to keep close track of how customers use your extended hours. Continually tweak your staffing and availability according to the extra hours your customers seem to need most, suggests Birol. Don’t forget to also consider whether you can also cut back on staffers’ time during regular workdays, as a result. And of course, continually watch your profits to see if changing your company’s work schedule is paying off financially or if you need to make further changes, says Birol.