Posted Saturday, May 3, 2003
Productivity. Has a nice sound to it, don't you think? Positive. Upbeat. Forward-looking. Something we probably all should be seeking to improve. Unfortunately, the word does not have the same meaning for all.
Productivity, Big Business, And People
To big business, productivity means cutting all possible expenses. And since wages are a major expenditure, jobs routinely disappear. (aka: Downsizing)
Large companies hire the talent to collect solid data and determine exactly what the profitability is for any element in place. It is then easy to point the finger precisely at elements that are less profitable.
It can be demonstrated that if they eliminate a particular component of their business, they will lose N% of customers. More important, they know precisely what N will be for any proposed cutback.
At this level of business, people do not matter individually. That is, the company is not concerned about the needs or nature of potential customers turned away. The focus is on the most profitable sale to make.
Customer Support Is Decaying Rapidly
One of the early victims in the battle for increased productivity was customer support. Adobe, producers of Acrobat, have taken this to an extreme. There is no contact information on their site. Not even an email address. Nobody to contact if you have a problem with one of their products.
Recently the theme has been CRM (Customer Relationships Management) which purportedly improves interaction between the company and its customers. Done properly as a company-wide on-going project, this is extremely effective for firms that benefit from staying in touch with their customers.
Often, however, CRM amounts to implementing expensive software systems that in effect seek to automate "interaction" and thus decrease the need for salaried employees to deal directly with customers.
While people in general may accept being treated in such cavalier fashion, many will not. These people buy such products as Adobe Acrobat only because they need the tool, and it is not available elsewhere.
The above picture of big business in action is loaded with implications that can lead to a great business of your own. Or to improving one you have.
For openers, consider that N% of previous customers discarded. One can make an excellent living off the discards from the giants. And there is nothing to fear in reaching out to embrace these potential customers, for they have already been written off. It's very unlikely that a major firm will reverse its position and want them back. And even if such a move is made, you will already have a following that will remain loyal to you.
Support Is Central
In every aspect of your business, assure that your eagerness to support your customers shines through. Make this a fundamental thrust in all you do. The name of your game must be: Build customer loyalty.
Can Customer Loyalty Be Sustained?
Many argue that it can not. Auto makers spend heavily each year to assure you come back and buy your next new car from them. Yet only about a third do. Not exciting results considering the bucks expended.
Many also argue that on the Web, this is most certainly true. That people shop for price. Period. There are two points overlooked in such a statement.
First, businesses that sell only on price will not succeed in the long term. Thus those selling at low prices will tend to disappear. As they do, your fair price becomes more competitive. This trend has been in place for a time, and will continue.
Second, suppose you do waste some time and/or resources only to lose to a lower price. So what? Those who recognize the support you offer will pay your price. They want the reassurance you'll be handy if problems arise. As above, expect this trend to continue.
Your Business Productivity Plan
Still, your business can benefit from efforts to improve productivity. Nothing fancy is required. Simply ask yourself if there are any elements on your site that require resources, particularly time, that can be discarded.
In a sense, this may also amount to discarding potential customers. Still, if you are spending an hour a month maintaining a page that generates only ten bucks, take a close look. It's at least a candidate to be discarded. Else convert it to a static offer that makes no further demands on your time.
Track down customers being discarded by big business as they focus on downsizing and productivity. Grab them for yourself. Then hold on to them with great customer support. While you may lose a few to price, those who appreciate your efforts will buy from you again.
And it may pay to look closely at your business with the view of profitability held by big business. If cutting some near-dead wood frees up valuable time, it may need doing.