Finding new customers is the top challenge facing local small businesses, with poor time management deemed the number one barrier to communicating with consumers, according to an independent study of the “Relational Economy” conducted by an independent research firm on behalf of Schedulicity, an online platform which allows millions of consumers to discover and book local services, while giving service based professionals the time and resources to care for their customers.  The study has prompted the launch of RelatE, Schedulicity’s new blog for service providers to educate themselves on how to start, manage, and grow their business.

“The Relational Economy, which we estimate at 50%-60% of the total U.S. economy, involves millions of daily personal interactions between local businesses and consumers, so we wanted to find out exactly what was driving and hindering these relationships from the service providers’ point of view,” said Jerry Nettuno, Executive Chairman and Founder of Schedulicity.

“There have been millions of transactions between service providers and consumers—Schedulicity’s platform alone is responsible for generating $3.5 billion in appointment-based commerce. For the past eight years, we found that before using our platform, our customers were not properly managing their time. We embarked on this study because it’s still a problem that service providers face and as the leader in the space we wanted to accurately evaluate the problem. Our new blog, RelatE will provide resources to help overcome the issues identified through our study.”

Asked to name their top challenges, the 398 survey respondents, ranging from beauty salon owners to plumbers to IT professionals, ranked “finding new customers” first, followed by “business growth” and “customer retention.”  To meet their challenges, 27% said they needed better advertising tools and 21% better customer communication tools.

Zeroing in on this problem with customer communications, 58% of the small business professionals said that “time” was their biggest barrier, followed by “expectations” and “cost.”  “Cost,” however, came in second among service providers from the health and beauty fields.

And which customer service would be most helpful to them?  Over half (51%) of respondents said that online payments would be “extremely helpful,” but that number was significantly higher for white-collar professionals (56%) and lower for blue-collar pros (48%).   Giving consumers mobile access to schedule and update appointments would be extremely helpful to 43% of respondents, with a wide disparity among professions: health/beauty 48%, white-collar 39% and blue-collar 33%.

On the other side, when asked what their customers complain about most, two responses led the pack:  “There are never any coupons, sales, discounts, available” and  “Not convenient for my schedule.”

The report on the Relational Economy also includes the following results:

  • What emotion words best describe how you feel about the challenges you face?  “Frustrated” stands out.
  • Have you sought outside resources for the challenges you face? 58% said “no.”
  • How much time do you spend on customer communication? About half spend one to three hours a day.
  • How effective is that communication? Only 18% said “very effective.”
  • How likely are you to try new communication methods and approaches? 83% said “likely” or “extremely likely.”

The Schedulicity study of the Relational Economy was conducted by independent research firm, using a digital survey delivered via smart devices from a sample of 398 service professionals over a two-week period between April 21 and May 5, 2015.

For more results, view the full study here.