By Bob McElwain
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
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
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
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. 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.
CRM And Small Businesses
Models used by large businesses won't serve the needs of small businesses. And
prices are far out of reach. But small business can implement
many powerful aspects of CRM on their website.