As the workplace becomes increasingly wired, global and 24/7, being "always on" and available day or night can offer ever-more significant competitive advantage, according to new research.
It may not be the most welcome message for managers looking forward to their well-earned summer break, but the study from business communications specialist Avaya has concluded that being available 24/7 really does make a difference when it comes to landing that all-important contract.
More than nine out of 10 European senior business managers said they were more likely to choose a supplier that made its customer service functions available 24/7, it found.
A similar percentage in fact indicated they would be willing to pay a premium for such "always-on" access.
Despite this, fewer than a fifth of European firms polled currently offered employees the flexible working options, such as remote working and flexi-hours, needed to underpin an around-the-clock customer service function of this kind, pointed out Avaya.
It also suggested many organisations, and their managers, were ill-prepared to offer customers the type of service they demanded themselves.
Not only did customers want 24/7 answers to problems, they also wanted to be able to choose their preferred means of communication, whether it was email, fax, phone, writing or in person, and they wanted all of those options to be equally available.
Seven out of 10 felt the best method of communicating with suppliers if you wanted top-level, immediate service was to speak to them by telephone.
This was closely followed by email (59 per cent) and face-to-face contact (56 percent), while faxes and formal letters were deemed least likely to get a result (at less than a fifth and a tenth respectively).
"The survey results show conclusively that the service gold standard has changed and that businesses need to adapt to accommodate customers' new expectations and that there is a strong business case for introducing flexible working solutions across Europe as a way to plug this potentially lucrative gap," said Martyn Lambert, vice president, EMEA marketing at Avaya.
"It is increasingly clear that not only can flexible working help companies attract better employees, retain them longer and foster business agility, it could also help increase the bottom line if flexible working is deployed to enable 'always-on' customer service," he added.
And the issue wasn't technology, he stressed. Nearly six out of 10 of the firms polled said their organisation already had the technology and systems in place to enable productive, flexible working for its staff.
"Many companies have already laid the groundwork for a flexible, scalable approach to work," said Lambert.
"By allowing employees remote and mobile access, companies can create virtual customer service offerings that allow that 24/7 approach that companies are clamouring for," he added.
"It could be a competitive differentiator for those companies scrambling to push forward in a difficult economic environment," he concluded.