By Claire West

Companies across the country are losing valuable contracts because they cannot be reached fast enough by potential customers. Time-pressed business people expect a prompt response, and in the current economic climate, goodwill and personal relationships count for little if a supplier fails to get back in time. With the average cost of not responding to a potential new business enquiry topping £30,000 for the average company this year, an almost £10,000 rise on 2009, that is £70 billion of potential business lost across the country. Time really is money for British businesses that want to grow.

The Vodafone Critical Response Time Index, now in its fourth year, shows that 27% of business people expect a response from a prospective supplier within an hour, with almost a third (29%) expecting a response within the hours that make up a morning or afternoon.

Younger business people are more demanding Younger business people demand the fastest response. A third of 16 to 24 year olds want to hear back from suppliers between 31 and 60 minutes after they drop them an email, compared with 11% of 25 to 34 year olds and 10% of 35 to 44 year olds.

Social networking enters the business arena Younger business people are also bringing the ways they communicate with their friends into the business arena. More than one in ten people aged between 16 and 24 (14.7%) said they 'frequently' use social networks such as Facebook and Twitter to contact suppliers, while a fifth (20%) 'occasionally' do. That compares with just 4.9% of 35 to 44 year olds.

But engaging through a social network comes at a price: people who use Facebook and Twitter expect an even faster response from their suppliers than the average business. Over 40% of people who use social networks expect a response within an hour, compared with the overall figure of 27% of businesses who expect a response within 60 minutes. Over a third of businesses polled (34%) expected social networks to become more important as a means of sourcing suppliers in future.

Responding in time

Businesses who do not get back to a potential customer promptly will lose out. If they have not heard back within their preferred timeframe, over a quarter (27%) will contact another supplier immediately.

Poor communications at fault

Over the past 12 months, almost four out of ten businesses (39%) who said they had cancelled a contract with a supplier, did so because of poor communication - either they had difficulty contacting key decision makers or got a slow response to an urgent call or they went elsewhere because a competing supplier was able to provide a quicker service. It is no use suppliers thinking they are safe because they have worked with the same company for a long duration, more than seven in ten businesses polled (71%) said there is less room for goodwill, personal relationships and giving suppliers 'the benefit of the doubt' in 2010.

Business owners say that these lost new business opportunities cost them an average of more than £30,000, up from £21,993 in 2009.

"Businesses need to respond quickly and efficiently to their customers if they want to survive and thrive," according to Peter Kelly, Enterprise Director for Vodafone UK. More and more companies will choose to work with suppliers who can prove that they will be contactable 24/7. If your business is not responsive, it's not going to win in this fiercely competitive environment. Unified communications solutions are becoming critical to enable companies to stay ahead of the competition, reduce communications costs and respond to customers more quickly."

Vodafone's 2010 Critical Response Time Index shows that businesses are increasingly demanding that their suppliers have a mobile workforce. Almost nine out of ten (89%) businesses said they would actively seek out a partner who can work remotely.

Solutions for small and medium sized businesses from Vodafone UK Earlier this month, Vodafone UK launched One Net Express which is a completely new way of communicating for small businesses that merges all landline and mobile calls to create an innovative mobile-only solution so, they never miss a crucial call. It fits alongside Vodafone's existing One Net and Vodafone One unified communications solutions, aimed at medium and larger companies, to help ensure they are more responsive to their customers.

Remote working means lower costs and fewer late nights in the office Within their own operations, meanwhile, businesses are turning to remote working to help reduce costs and compete more effectively against the competition. A significant number of the businesses polled (28%) said they are encouraging the use of conference calling, while a fifth (20%) are encouraging employees to work from home or remotely in order to reduce costs.

But remote working is not just about saving money, it can free employees from late nights in the office or having to come in at weekends. Over a fifth of business people (22%) polled admitted that at least once a week they have to work late - or give up part of their weekend - to carry out work in the office that could have been done at home if they had been given the right remote working tools. Male workers are particularly prone to late working (25.2%) compared with their female colleagues (18%).

For more information on Vodafone One Net and Vodafone One Net Express go to: www.vodafone.co.uk/onenet or call 08450 727 242.