Business On Demand

14/09/2012 11:15 BST | Updated 13/11/2012 10:12 GMT

Over the last few years, there has been a dramatic shift in consumers' expectations about how they interact with businesses. Constant access to an organisation and its services has moved from being a source of differentiation for business to something taken for granted within the consumer experience. It is a shift that's resulted in businesses coming under increasing pressure to deliver high-quality service around the clock. You only need to look at the recent outages of O2, Nationwide, RBS and Blackberry to get a sense of how far and how fast bad news travels, resulting in worldwide customer dissatisfaction and negative media attention. So when an outage can clearly be so costly to business, why are they still happening?

Put simply, businesses no longer seem to consider customer satisfaction as their top priority. Despite public uproar about recent downtime, only 40 per cent of UK organisations think an inability to deliver availability will result in them losing customers. The research, conducted for SunGard Availability Services, also found that, while companies prioritise availability, they do so with regards to the financial bottom line rather than customer satisfaction and service.

Additionally, the results suggest issues of availability are not confined to the UK as a staggering 80% of organisations across Europe admit that they do not have the right skills and resources to manage availability effectively. As a result, the majority of companies in the UK (87%), France (83%) and Nordics (86%) concede that customer and staff expectations of availability are not always met.

It's a worrying trend. And with businesses expecting that the majority of both customers (66%) and staff (61%) are going to demand yet more availability over the next five years the situation is likely to get worse if something is not done.

We are better connected than we've ever been, in every sense of the word. Smartphones and increased network coverage are enabling us to consume services as and when we choose, while social media has opened up completely new channels of communication with a global reach. Therefore, if an organisation is unable to deliver what is expected, the potential backlash they face can be instantaneous and communicated to millions of customers across the globe within minutes. Businesses must take note: a satisfied customer base is one of the safest bets in helping to guarantee a healthy bottom line.

There's no quick fix solution, but businesses must look to re-evaluate their strategic priorities and resources to support the customer 24/7. There needs to be a cultural shift to create an 'Available Enterprise' mind-set, where availability is central to the organisations plans and objectives. Starting from the top and working down would also be wise: 52% of senior IT directors believe that their board must commit more time and resources to availability, with 39% confident that the board does not understand the level of investment required to deliver it. This comes despite the finding that 96% of the board reported to be interested in the issue.

Ultimately, by concentrating solely on the financial bottom line, companies have inadvertently pushed customer satisfaction down their list of priorities. As any successful business leader will tell you, this is not a sustainable policy for business growth, especially in today's connected customer base with access to countless channels to spread negative experiences.

Businesses must get back to basics and place relationships with customers at the top of their list of strategic priorities. Anything less and a business risks finding itself losing vital ground to its competitors, a dangerous position in any climate, especially the one we operate in today.

To help address the issue, today sees the launch of the 'Delivering the Available Enterprise' report, looking at the challenges organisations face when keeping people and information connected in our changing business landscape.