It is becoming increasingly important for small and medium-sized businesses to offer web-based customer support, a study has suggested.
Research conducted by web hosting provider Fasthosts Internet indicates that three-fifths of UK consumers expect to receive round-the-clock support over the internet.
The firms said consumers want to be able to contact organisations 24/7 via email and social networking websites.
Some 37 per cent of those surveyed said they expect even the smallest companies to reply to online enquiries outside of regular office/shop hours.
And for 40 per cent, the availability of SMB support on social media channels is a critical factor for being competitive with larger organisations.
When questioned, 56 per cent of respondents offered the view that SMBs need to reply to online enquiries more quickly.
Some 65 per cent believe that in order for small firms to succeed, they need to be more flexible in terms of delivering customer support.
Claire Lewis, marketing director at Fasthosts Internet, noted that having an online presence is no longer just about having a professional looking website.
She claimed that engagement and inspiring customer confidence should be the aim for businesses of all sizes.
"Business owners must interact with their audience, and demonstrate their relevance and value to the consumer," Ms Lewis stated.
"Decision makers and consumers have turned to social media as a valuable and sociable research tool, and even the smallest businesses can benefit from leveraging this trend."
Last month, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) warned that one in four UK SMBs is at risk of being uncompetitive through not having their own website.
And according to the lobby group, just a third of SMBs are using their website to generate sales - meaning many are missing out on significant opportunities.
Mike Cherry, national policy chairman at the FSB, said more SMBs must take advantage of the opportunities that technology presents.
By doing so, they can be competitive, expand their horizons and have a positive impact on the communities they rely on for business, he claimed.
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Posted by Jenny Arthur