Now, you may think this is an odd topic for a time management post, but keep reading and you may understand.
I used to go to a restaurant once a week for really good Chinese food. I would always take my son, because he loved the food and trying to eat with chopsticks. Now, it was a little pricey, but the helpings were large so I was always sure to have enough left over for lunch the next day. One week we went there for dinner, and the helpings were really small. I commented to the person serving me that normally they gave us a much bigger scoop. The server commented back that they had been making a mistake before, and these were the correct proportions. I was very disappointed, and after that experience my son and I found a recipe, bought some chopsticks, and started eating our weekly Chinese dinner at home instead of at the restaurant. We have gone back a couple times in the last year, but we are no longer regular weekly customers and we have also turned the rest of the family onto our yummy homemade Chinese dinner.
My point here is that this restaurant created an expectation for me, and then changed. My opinion isn't a bad one of the restaurant, but because of their drastic change in portion sizes I no longer visit the store as a weekly customer.
From a business and time management perspective, I am here to tell you that YOU create expectations for your customers. You create these expectations in your descriptions, prices, policies, words and actions. You have the ultimate control over how your customers perceive your customer service and product. You need to set your business up with systems that are manageable for the long term and account for busy times, slow times, growth, and rising supply costs. You don't want your regular customers to visit your shop not knowing what to expect this time. You want your regular customers to know exactly what they can expect based on their experiences with you, and you want to set up systems that you can maintain.
From a time management perspective this means setting up times to respond to customers - will you respond to them in 2 hours, 6 hours, 12 hours, 24 hours, 48 hours? Set a schedule that you can conform to on your busy times, however perhaps not your extremely busy times. You may state that you will respond to people in 24-48 hours and the 24 hour mark is what you do in normal and busy times, but the 48 hours is what you do when you are extremely busy. Put these times in your policies, and also tell people when you will respond back to the with answers to questions and quotes that are not immediately available. Then - stick to it! If you are constantly late, then consider extending the time that you give yourself. However, you also don't want to be consistently very early either. You don't want your customers used to you responding to them in breakneck speed and then all of a sudden they don't hear from you for 2 days without some sort of announcement that you are out of town.
Set up appropriate times to complete orders and shipping ready-made orders. When you do this give yourself a buffer to account for bad weather, a sick day now and then, and also things that come up in life. You don't want to be cutting it so close to deadlines that you are constantly having to tell your customer that you missed a deadline that you ultimately set for yourself. You also don't want to be always sending orders days ahead of schedule and it to feel like you are late when an order is sent out on time.
Scheduling realistic times and deadlines for yourself can help you plan custom orders into your regular order routine, save time by consolidating like tasks, and to give you and your customers a solid system to expect for the long term. So, be nice to yourself, give yourself the time that you need to complete your orders and communications without being in a time crunch constantly.
Next week I will be writing about working in batches, small runs, and one at a time.