Monday, May 14, 2012

Staying sane in a 24/7 world

Shhh.... I have another business. It's a tiny little online business, with sales so far, in this, its first year, in the mid 3 figures. ;) Online businesses are supposed to be easy, right? Set it up, and it chugs away, as my partner in the business says, a ka-ching machine.

Not so much! It turns out that our market, CA real estate agents and brokers, is not hugely computer savvy. Many of our customers and potential customers want to talk to us before signing up, and many of our customers call us for help logging on, or re-logging on, having lost their user names or passwords. I am NOT the tech help, which is provided by our online host, another small company in Oregon, who works normal business hours, Monday - Friday, 8:30AM to 5PM.

Here's the problem: if they don't get an answer to their questions before they sign up, they just buy from someone else. If they don't get support whenever they want it, 24/7, they're angry.

And there are only two of us. Thank god it's not just me. Come to think of it, my 888-4-HOLLIS number rings 24/7, too, and if I don't answer when it rings, I lose that new customer, as well.

So how do you, a human being with normal needs for sleep and food and exercise and other bodily functions, do business in a 24/7 world?

Luckily, I have some lessons to fall back on from my Dad, who started his career in medicine as a pediatrician:
  • Get help in the form of technology - Way back in the early 1960s, before there were answering machines, my Dad had an answering service. The operators worked for many physicians, and were trained to ferret out what could wait till business hours, and what was probably an emergency. The operators always knew where my Dad was (remember, this was before cell phones, too), and were trained to take the patient's name and number and then call Dad if it seemed critical.
  • Get help in the form of other people - Eventually, my Dad had a partner, and they switched off weekends and holidays, so that at least every other weekend, my Dad could really relax, knowing the phone wouldn't ring.
  • Pick your business carefully - My Dad switched the kind of medicine he specialized in, from pediatrics, where kids get sick all the time, to allergies, where if the patient gets his autoimmune boosting injections and is careful in avoiding certain allergens, no emergencies should come up. Still, I learned very early to always have a book with me, because we never knew when dinner might be interrupted by Dad needing to head to the office or the hospital. 
Today, we are all reachable 24/7 on our smart phones, by cell, text and email. So the problem is not how to be reachable, but how to avoid being reached, so we can preserve our humanity, our sanity, and our relationships (interrupt a romantic dinner for a client text, anyone?), and still do business. In some way, though, the same rules apply:
  •  Get help in the form of technology - Set outgoing messages and autoresponders to answer with a pleasant message that includes what your normal business hours are, and what to do until then, like call emergency tech support.
  •  Get help in the form of other people - We still need partners, people to cover for us when we are on vacation or out of the country. The more people who can cover, the better -- this explains the rise of large physician groups, by the way.
  • Pick your business carefully - Do you want to be in a business where emergencies happen? Emergencies don't happen if you're a corporate trainer, for example. If you're in a business with emergencies, can you charge more, perhaps a LOT more, if those emergencies happen outside business hours, like plumbers do? 
  • Accept that you're going to lose some business -What price are your sanity, your humanity, and your relationships worth?
If you have any ideas about what else to do, post them here or email me -- I'd love to hear them!

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