Ian, On Ignoring Advice

June 29, 2010

A brilliant little line in this note by Ian Lurie titled: Ignore the influencers: The dangers of a social media world

Don’t try to record my advice. Listen to it. Process it. Combine my advice with your reality. Then write down the result

Forget the web 2.0 bingo that Ian is describing, in the small to medium business this advice applies in other ways as well.

It can be too easy to look for the silver bullet prescription to running our businesses, yes, that includes our IT.

There is no prescription!

I have tried to emphasize that as SME’s, we are not all the same. What works for one business at one point in time, may be the complete wrong idea for a second business.

Consultants come and go with their theory of the week about how they will fix everything for your if you follow their advice.

Me?

Unless that consultant knows your business as well as you do?

I echo Ian,

Combine their advice with your reality.

The warning;

This does not mean that burying your head in the sand is the correct answer.

This does not mean that because you have always done it this way, you should not change.

This does not mean that you should avoid the difficult tasks required to look at your business holistically to see where changes could benefit.

But this does mean that because a consultant (or blogger) says ACME did this and saved $$$ that you consider carefully if there is any sense at all in comparing your market, your demographics and your business model with ACME’s

I talked with a chap that related the following story;

A B2B manufacturer wanted to provide some channel information to its independent retailers.I did not pry into the details, but I believe they wanted to introduce new products or product lines.

To do this, the vendor set up a Web Conference. Simply put, web conferencing allows you to stream audio and video meeting materials live over the Internet, these tools also allow conference listeners to type questions into the conferencing software  or provide input to the people that are hosting the conference.

All in all – web conferencing is a pretty decent way to disseminate information without incurring huge travel costs.

But can you see the problem here?

These independent retailers are this vendors customers. How do you think they felt about this web conference?

A guess?

I was told they were furious.

They were furious because that vendor did not think about them as customers. They were furious the vendor had such a poor knowledge of its own market.

The reason for their anger?

Like many smaller business, these customer retailers have varying levels of technology literacy.

And?

Some of these customers still hand wrote receipts on carbon paper forms!

Some had PC’s, but no Internet connection.

In essence this organizations customers had a well deserved feeling of being left out.

As I mentioned above – I have no issue with web conferencing, but I do have an issue with hanging a bunch of your customers out to dry because you never bothered to understand them.

How could they have done this differently?

How about before the event communications offering a recording of the event on DVD (or even VHS! since if carbon paper is still in use..)

The SMB Takeaway

Technology is a tool. Only one tool. In marketing, or service consider which tool or tools is best for your market.

There was an animated discussion on Twitter this past Tuesday about what too often seems to a bane of our existence; Customer service as delivered through call centers.

To start, let me state that as small to medium businesses, if we are committed to good customer service, I believe we have an advantage that the big companies don’t. Simply put, we are closer to the front lines and customer needs.

And IT can be a linchpin to support your customer service efforts.

Sure, as this example I wrote about shows, IT can help your customer service in both the pre-sales and sales processes, but for this post I just want to follow up on after sales customer service. After sales customer service usually translates into the word support because something is not working correctly, or not understood. In other words; Help Me!!!

I also want to leave this in a Business to Business (B2B) context, not business to consumer (B2C) because that is the majority of my experience.

With that out of the way, we know that supporting your product or service can be costly.Customer Service

Statistics show that first line telephone service can cost up to $36.00 per call, and that amount goes up if escalation to another tier of service is required.

Looking at that number, many businesses then make one mistake; Customer Service costs that? lets reduce!

But there is a better way to look at it.

Try asking; What is it costing our customer? By that I mean what is the value they have placed on your product or service. Is it differentiated? or a commodity? How is this time and effort asking questions and getting this fixed costing them?

That expectation of value is what you need to look at when planning customer service strategy for your product or service. As an example, if you sell me recycled toner cartridges for printers, my value of the product may say that a quick replacement of a defective cartridge is excellent customer service.

But if I spend six figures? My perceived value changes, and you need to accommodate that.

This post will be the first in a short series, this one will deal with lower perceived value products, the next will dive into more higher perceived value issues.

And part two in customer service is the human element

One of the common refrains that were voiced during  that Twitter chat was a simple theme; people want to feel like they have been heard, that there is a reason, or an answer to their problems. Even if there is no solution that will make your customer 100% satisfied (sorry, that unit does not work in 30 feet of water) they will be even less satisfied with you if they just get no response.

So how can you use IT to help both the human and cost element?

One of the easiest customer service objective for SME’s is Call Avoidance.

No, I don’t mean hide your phone number or ‘Dump the Chump’ games. I mean you have a Website, use it! Add a section for frequently asked questions. Add common customer service issues and known problems.

Love them or hate ’em, Microsoft is a master at this. If you have an error in some Microsoft product and search their Website for an answer, you may find a technical bulletin that contains information that explains;

STATUS
Microsoft has confirmed that this is a problem in the Microsoft products that are listed in the “Applies to” section

To resolve this problem……

In some cases that message will tell you that it won’t be fixed until the next version of the product.

While you may find it frustrating to have to wait – at least you know the answer! You are not left in the dark guessing.

Forward looking companies have taken this concept to the next level by having public Question & Answer forums where other customers may be the ones answering questions.

And don’t let this web based data stagnate. As your customer service team fields calls, ensure that new questions or identified issues get added to that on-line repository.

Each time that your customer find the information that they need with out calling your customer service team, the happier they are, and the happier you are.

The SMB Takeaway

Our Websites are too often underutilized. That Website is prime real estate to create an environment where your customers can try to help themselves first.

Allowing them to help themselves provides both the the answer that they are looking for, and reduces the number of calls you are receiving.

Photo Credit urbanmkr via flickr

That title sounds a little bit like some sort of spammy e-mail doesn’t it?

Like many things, if you are being literal? That title is completely accurate – but figuratively?

Well, let me back up.

This post is the next in my occasional series introduced in this post titled; IT In Marketing.

The short summary – this series documents a pretty typical smaller business that does not have a marketing staff, and the relatively simple changes that can be made that will improve the website part of your marketing efforts.

In one of the previous posts in this series,  I showed the steps of how I plotted a baseline, did some (free) website analytics and how I intended to tackle fixing our website content.

One key point that I previously mentioned was important to me;  I did not want some 2 plus year project trying to rewrite the whole web site.

I wanted to modify it one  page at a time. Write it, proof it, test it, then put it on the site. My goal being to refresh the content on one page per week. (the whole purpose of this series is that it is a part time thing right?)

I previously wrote that in the several months I was just monitoring traffic to the website – we got zero (none, nada, zip, zilch) visits to our site by people that found our website by the search engines – unless they were actually searching for part of our company name.

If you searched for: What is ABC Corp’s address

You found our website OK

If you searched for anything in our business space – well you didn’t find us.

Back to my weird title!

After just the second week, having only refreshed the data on only two web pages, I received three web site visitors that found us via the content we have – rather than just our company name.

I was able to tell our management team; ‘hey we got three!

When a co-worker reminded us that ‘three’ was 300% better than Zero!

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Many will have noticed that on June 10th, if you visited google.com, you found the sparse, white, typical Google web page was gone.

The Google search box was surrounded by one of many large, colourful images.

The ability to change the image was there too. To customize it the way you want.

Many complained – but guess what – many did not complain – (most in my office loved it …)

A few hours later this background disappeared, Google says it was a bug – much of the press said that they backed off due to pressure.

Personally I think it was a great experiment

What is the distinction between your computer desktop and the web?

Look at your computer – you are staring at a screen – you probably have set yourself a desktop picture too – you have a couple of icons for email and some other tools you use.

Google demonstrated yesterday that you can but your favorite desktop image on google.

The only thing missing?

A few icons for email and other tools?

Perhaps the ability to add your most frequently used Google Apps icons to Google as well?

It is not that far out if you think about it.

Encouraging Mediocrity

June 9, 2010

Forgive the language – but here in Ottawa there has been a shitstorm of controversy.

Here is the short form of the story;

1) Ottawa little league soccer creates a mercy rule that states when teams get 5 goals ahead of their opponent, they should stop scoring goals.

2) If the team does not go easy enough – and score another  goal – they automatically lose the game!

(does that count for own-goals too?)

Imagine doing this in business?

Team A is pulled from the account because they kick butt??

Go to the lowest common denominator?

The lowest common denominator in business is always mediocrity

Photo Credit CTD 2005 via flickr

Teaching vs. Doing

June 7, 2010

The following is a quote sent via twitter;

OH ladies in 80’s: “See that’s the difference ‘tween technicians who can, ‘do do do do’ do it like that and teachers who show you.”

If you don’t use twitter, here is the back ground, Randy Little (@littlerandy on twitter or twitter.com/littlerandy) overheard two elderly women talking about technology in a coffee shop.

In the discussion the above quote was about a technology support individual willing to teach someone, rather than just do it.

IT staffers take note.

Like the old saying; Give a man a fish, he eats for a day, teach a man to fish and he eats forever.

In IT, the teach part should be mandatory

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Photo Credit Jon Hanson via flickr