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Make Life More Convenient for Customers: Be Open When They Need You

Jan 16, 2008
Let's face it. Women do most of the buying for families. Yet the average woman is totally occupied between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and almost as busy on the weekends. When do businesses think that busy women will be able to buy what they want to sell?

In December 2007, most retailers in the United States once again saw their unit volumes drop during the busy Christmas season. I predict that trend will continue as women shift their browsing and buying to those who make life more convenient.

Many organizations will expand their offerings to new types of customers and stakeholders, but fail to appreciate that those expanded offerings require a shift in when the offerings are available. In some cases, new types of customers need to be accommodated who aren't being sought but could be attracted to earn a good profit.

With increased global commerce, many regions of the world are experiencing more visits by foreign business people and tourists. Yet the regions may remain unresponsive to the needs of the new stakeholders.

Here's an example: A trip to Mexico City can require adjustments for those from other countries. Many banks and businesses are closed for much of the afternoon; it's siesta time.

If you usually dine at 7 p.m., you're also in for a surprise. Most fine restaurants don't open until 10 p.m.

If organizations were to shift their hours to accommodate their new foreign customers, they would see significant added demand as long as their competitors adhered to traditional practices.

Many banks in every part of the world unintentionally create the same inconveniences for customers by scheduling employees to eat lunch when customers are on their lunch breaks. That schedule means that more customers come in when there are fewer people to help them. When it gets to be 5 p.m. on a weekday, most banks are closed.

If you need to see someone about a loan application or to get into a safe deposit box, you either have to plan to take time off from work or come in on Saturday morning. If Saturday is your Sabbath, that's an even worse problem.

It's not surprising that when one bank started offering branch services inside supermarkets on Sundays that customers were ecstatic. You could now combine banking and grocery shopping if you wanted to.

Notice that if the banks had simply opened up on Sundays in some existing locations, the solution wouldn't have worked as well as by combining a new type of location and new hours that fit the schedule of many customers who come to that location.

When are most businesses open in the United States? You can go there when everyone else is at work. This timing is a leftover from the days when most people lived in two-adult households and only one adult worked outside the home. Increasingly, retail stores are offering longer hours to adjust for households where all the adults work outside the home and many of the teenagers work when they aren't in school.

By contrast, if your customers are mostly at work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., you may do more business with them if you are open from 6-9 a.m. and from 5-8 p.m. and are closed in between times. That's the case if they have to come to a special location to use your services.

One chain of discount providers of at-work clothing for women professionals found it could earn the most by only being open on Friday nights and for long hours on Saturday and Sunday. Their customers and employees were very occupied during the week with work and family responsibilities.

Women used to have their fertility issues treated in physicians' offices and in hospitals. A few years ago, specialty practices emerged. They quickly found that traditional doctor's hours brought loud complaints.

Fertility clinics for women are often open now from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., seven days a week with the women professionals taking the bulk of the 6-8 a.m. and 7-9 p.m. slots while the stay-at-home women take up most of the rest of the time.

For similar reasons, many gyms are now open from 5 a.m. through 11 p.m. Even the men find those extended hours to be more convenient.

If customers don't need to come to your location, being open 24 hours a day, seven days a week will almost always be a better choice if you can automate your offerings. Online sites naturally have that quality and can be set up to operate through self-service software with a minimal nighttime backup staff. If you outsource to an organization on the other side of the world, even your nighttime backup staff works at a more convenient time.

We are often amused by restaurants that are open long hours, but fail to appreciate the full implications of providing better customer access. There's such a restaurant near where I live. One of their strongest offerings is brunch . . . but brunch is only served on Sunday during two-and-a-half hours.

Who said that people don't want to eat brunch on other days? Brunch items are easy to prepare on short notice, as diners and coffee shops have been proving for years by offering breakfast 24 hours a day.

You may be laughing about how silly these problems are and how your long hours work well for your customers. But think again.

If you have global customers, some of them are wide awake and needing your services at all times. You probably just have your expert staff members available from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. in your own time zone. As a result, customers 12 time zones away have little access to your top people unless they want to call during the middle of the night.

Here are questions designed to help you uncover time-based opportunities:

-When do your customers buy your offerings?

-When would your customers like to buy your offerings?

-When are your customers using your offerings?

-When would your customers like to use your offerings but cannot now?

-When is it inconvenient to use your offerings?

-What potential customers won't consider buying your offerings because of timing issues?

-When do customers need special services from you?

-When do competitors make their offerings and special services available?
About the Author
Donald Mitchell is an author of seven books including Adventures of an Optimist, The 2,000 Percent Squared Solution, The 2,000 Percent Solution, The 2,000 Percent Solution Workbook, The Irresistible Growth Enterprise, and The Ultimate Competitive Advantage. Read about creating breakthroughs through 2,000 percent solutions and receive tips by e-mail by registering for free at

http://www.2000percentsolution.com .
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